Optoelectronics

Surface scanner uses phased laser signals for accurate road modelling

26th February 2015
Barney Scott

Simulator software specialist rFactor pro (rFpro) has announced the use of a novel surface scanning technology to produce highly accurate digital road models. This capability allows manufacturers to tailor chassis dynamics on ‘global’ vehicles for individual markets, even before prototypes are available, significantly improving development time and costs.

As increasing numbers of vehicles are designed to suit global markets, making the optimum design choices at the outset has become more challenging. Revisions to a vehicle to suit individual market tastes late in a development program can be costly, so manufacturers aim to avoid such issues by testing as early as possible. A simulator allows a human driver to experience the vehicle’s behaviour in a virtual environment, long before physical prototypes are available, but needs an accurate road model to be really useful.

To support this requirement, rFpro is exploiting a breakthrough in scanning technology to capture road surfaces with better accuracy than ever before, and up to 50 times the level of detail. The key development has been to replace the single pulse laser LIDAR time-of-flight scanning process with a number of separate, phased laser signals. Instead of waiting for each signal to return before firing the next one, the controlled phasing allows the signals to be overlapped, increasing both the speed and quantity of data captured. The road is scanned for bumps & variations every 5mm, with precision of under 1mm.

The company works with a core group of regionally located scanning partners to provide global coverage. All of the partners have now added this latest phase-based scanning capability to the systems they use for rFpro’s road surveys.

The growing volumes of data have led rFpro to switch to Cloud-based processing and storage, providing almost limitless scope for further growth and enabling hundreds of CPU cores to work simultaneously on data processing each project, further reducing timescales.

“We can capture and reproduce the differences between a frost-damaged Detroit highway, a bumpy minor road in Wales, a smooth German autobahn or any other surface,” explained Chris Hoyle, Technical Director, rFpro. “This means vehicle manufacturers located anywhere in the world can evaluate their vehicle’s chassis response to any road type in a realistic virtual environment, without leaving the office. As growing numbers of vehicle makers ask us to reproduce their favourite test route surfaces, our digital road modelling workload is increasing rapidly. In 2012 we built just over 100km; in 2014 it was more than 1000km and this year we expect to build approximately 3000km of digital road models. The technique isn’t just more detailed; it’s also faster, which allows the scanners to drive at normal road speeds without impeding other road users. Any vehicle manufacturer with an established vehicle model and simulator can benefit from the road models produced using our new digital road building capability,” said Hoyle. “Even after prototype vehicles are available, the cost and logistical challenges of testing on roads in different continents can be reduced by the strategic use of effective virtual testing.”

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