The French motorsport driving simulator provider is undergoing a major Cruden Panthera software upgrade to keep its business at the cutting edge of simulator developments; AOTech’s motorsport and automotive customers will be able to hone and test vehicle and tyre models to the highest level of accuracy.
As modern technologies, computing power and coding expertise continue to improve, upgrading devices has become a regular occurrence in our daily lives. From phone apps and laptop software to the latest gaming consoles, upgrades are essential to keep devices running fast, reliably and safely. The same philosophy applies for advanced driver-in-the-loop (DIL) simulators.
Earlier this year, Paris-based driving simulator provider AOTech, committed to upgrading its five-year-old 6-DOF Cruden motion simulator to the latest Cruden-developed Panthera simulator software. AOTech adopted its first Cruden simulator in 2011, making it an early pioneer of driving simulator development and one of the most expert simulator businesses operating in motorsport today.
AOTech supports race teams with driver training, mainly in junior formulae categories and notably via its longstanding relationship with the ART GP race team in Formula 2, Formula 3 and Formula Renault. The company also works with teams, automotive and tyre manufacturers, developing models and filling a resource and expertise gap, so that when they need access to a simulator, everything is ready for them and every minute behind the wheel adds value.
The key to facilitating upgrades in line with customer needs – both in terms of timing and upgrading or adding new features – lies within the open architecture that underpins Cruden’s Panthera software. “The open architecture offers significant flexibility to our R&D customers, such as AOTech,” highlights Edwin de Vries, Senior Vehicle Dynamics engineer at Cruden. “In AOTech’s case, this involved a switch to running the physics models on a dedicated PC, to free up CPU power to achieve faster run times, as well as providing a higher-performing PC. AOTech’s old setup effectively interlaced the vehicle model with the graphics PC. So, the high fidelity Cruden-developed Matlab Simulink model (CSVM) would be compiled to a dynamic link library [DLL] which would then sit on top of the render programme,” explains de Vries. “Cruden abandoned this concept several years ago.”
A dedicated physics PC also means AOTech’s vehicle models can now be run in two different ways, suiting customers who simply want to run the simulator, as well as those who want to fully customise the model. Formerly, vehicle model development required the model to be constantly recompiled after every change, to validate the code. But now, all the changes can be made and tested step-by-step, after which the model is compiled once into an executable programme, which then guarantees real time performance. This is particularly helpful when either developing or debugging a vehicle model, which is essential for AOTech, which has developed the finest range of customer-accessible advanced racecar vehicle models in the world.
AOTech is now able to take advantage of custom connections to third party modules, meaning they can integrate their partners’ tyre models into their simulator. Running the vehicle model on a dedicated PC also enables a hard-real-time system such as dSPACE or Concurrent to be used. This runs the model in real time, which consequently allows for effective hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) integration. This gives customers the ability to test software strategies on real components, such as ECUs, which has recently become an essential part of simulator programmes for Formula E teams.
As a result of these changes, AOTech’s simulator graphics are now also run independently in line with Cruden’s use of the renowned Unity engine which renders 3D content in real time. Unity’s physics-based rendering technology, along with its deferred rendering, high resolution, high frame rates and huge asset store enriches the realism of the graphics, which is essential for high fidelity driving simulators.
Along with separating the physics and the graphics, the software architecture itself consists of many modules, or ‘apps’, resulting in a network of interconnected apps, instead of one large holistic programme. This modular approach gives customers such as AOTech the flexibility to not only customise the vehicle models, but also incorporate their own apps, such as bespoke GUIs.
The new upgrade benefits AOTech’s customers utilising the simulator for driver training purposes, thanks to a new live setup change feature. Normally, setup changes would have to be made within the MATLAB/ Simulink model itself, which would then need re-compiling before running. However, parameters can now be modified using a simple GUI whilst the model is already compiled.
Upgrading devices is not always straightforward. The process can often be time-consuming, triggering errors and requiring the user to re-familiarise themselves with a new interface. For simulator companies who rely on maximising run time and generating accurate race data, having a simulator out of action is simply not an option. Unfortunately, postponing an upgrade results in an ageing simulator that has reduced capabilities and can no longer be supported efficiently. This is not ideal when working with motorsport customers who expect the best and expected it yesterday!
It is AOTech’s priority to implement the upgrade with minimal disruption to the daily operation of their simulator and without affecting their advanced library of bespoke vehicle models. To achieve this, Cruden has spread the installation process over time, periodically overseeing new software releases at AOTech’s convenience. In this way, Cruden is able to ensure that each stage of the upgrade is successfully executed. Furthermore, the modular nature of the Panthera software means that only specific areas, or apps, are updated one at a time.
“This is a robust and effective way of performing an upgrade,” highlights de Vries. “We wanted to take the upgrade process one step at a time and isolate and validate any issues independently. This not only guarantees the integrity of AOTech’s vehicle models, but it also allows us to complete partial validation at every stage. This helps us to keep the upgrade process running smoothly whilst AOTech can keep their simulator running reliably.”
AOTech has completed the first stage of the upgrade and by 2021 will be able to utilise the full suite of benefits of the very latest Panthera simulator software. The upgrade, along with the full consultancy service of Cruden costs just one third of the value of the simulator itself. Yet this investment will help AOTech completely transform its original simulator, with the Cruden approach enabling a smooth transition, without sacrificing run time. AOTech’s customers will not only benefit from a whole host of new features, but also improved accuracy of the vehicle models, graphics and motion cueing, giving them the best simulated environment to improve their performance.
Concludes Yann Coudouret, Race & Simulation Engineer at AOTech, “After many years of working with the simulator and making developments in-house, this upgrade is allowing us to keep up-to-date with what is the sharp edge of the technology in the industry. AOTech will continue to keep moving forward, while making such cost-effective investments in our tools and IP.”
All Panthera software features mentioned in this article are available as standard to new customers of a Cruden motorsport driving simulator running on Panthera. For more information about the simulation services offered by AOTech please contact Yann Coudouret. If you would like discuss the possibilities of Panthera for your motorsport simulator, please contact Dennis Marcus at Cruden.