Honda has turned to Hollywood-style moviemaking technology to create a new crash-simulation software that makes it less expensive to make cars safer.
Developed in partnership with a company called 3DXcite, Honda's new software can simulate a collision and render the results in ways that make it possible for the car company to isolate single parts of the vehicle in the crash so that the effects of the impact can be understood at the level of an individual nut, bolt or body part.
That can make cars safer, and can streamline the process from concept to car, by eliminating some of the time and expense involved in testing prototype vehicles for safety.
The software -- called Real Impact -- also creates a full 360-degree point of view on every individual part, to give engineers a more specific sense of exactly what's happening, everywhere inside the vehicle, at every millisecond during the crash.
The technology also allows engineers to see a crash with the body on the frame, or off, and gives them the choice of viewing the accident with no roof on the vehicle, or no doors, to better understand what's happening at and after impact.
"We developed this as an engineering tool," said Eric DeHoff, Principal Engineer for Honda R&D North America. "But it's also a great communication tool. You can pull it up onto a screen, make it interactive, hide parts, cut out whole sections, and do analysis. And it's very accurate, compared to physical testing."
Honda's DeHoff began working five years ago with Tim Ventura, who now works out of the Detroit offices of Munich-based 3DXcite. DeHoff brought Ventura the idea that became Real Impact.
"This was an 'elephant in the room' problem," Ventura said. "Because of the size of data sets he deals with, it was difficult to find a visualization program that could handle it effectively."
Even Ventura was impressed, he said, to discover how effectively the Real Impact software was in rendering a 3D expression of a simulated crash.
"I was floored," he said. "This is true to life -- not a guesstimate. It's what the event really would look like, taking into account all the actual physics of the interaction."
Ventura said he thinks the software will save Honda "tremendous amounts" of time and money, because it reduces the need for real crash tests, and the need to build prototype vehicles, and destroy them, to understand how they'd behave in an accident.
Honda performs about 200 physical crash tests a year, the company said, using real vehicles and real crash test dummies.
But with the new software, DeHoff said, the company can run up to 600 crash test simulations a month, and as many as 6,000 crash test simulations per vehicle -- "without the expensive of building and destroying actual automobiles," Honda said.
Honda has been using crash test simulations for some time, DeHoff said. But the new software, in addition to creating a more visually-arresting representation of what happens in an accident, also happens a lot faster.
Using previous technology required about six weeks to make a fully interactive simulation video. Now, deHoff said, "We can render those pictures in a single day."
So far, only Honda is using the Real Impact software -- which though co-developed by Honda is owned by 3DXcite. But 3DXcite has already done other work for GM. (If you use a "configurator" on the GM webiste to see what a black Corvette would look like with red interior and gold rims, it's 3DXcite software that's producing those images.)
Ventura said the company has already had inquiries from other auto companies, aerospace companies and even sports equipment companies.
"They're looking at impact -- on golf clubs, or helmets, or hockey sticks," Ventura said. "They can simulate the materials and the physics of what a slapshot does to a hockey stick," and render that in real time video.