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Renault's CAVE Raises the Bar for Virtual Reality DesignVirtual Reality (VR) technology first appeared on the virtual horizon several decades ago, but it's safe to say that the past few years have seen a quantum leap in its evolution.

With ever-increasing processing power and ultra-high resolution display technologies, the cartoon-ish, low bitrate virtual worlds of yesterday have given way to stunningly realistic environments shockingly close to the real thing. And VR technology has become an integral aspect of so many of our most prolific industries, from military and pilot training, architecture, and medical research, to aerospace and automobile design.

French automobile manufacturer Renault has long been ahead of the curve in embracing new technologies. Most recently, the company has implemented a new CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) facility at the Paris headquarters.

While other auto manufacturers have also implemented CAVE technology, Renault's facility boasts the highest resolution ever realized in a VR environment, with five sides of Sony-based imaging that can deliver up to 16k resolution.

Renault partnered with Mechdyne, a leader in VR and visual technologies, to design and implement the new CAVE facility. "Renault approached us to bid on the project, because we had already built a six-sided CAVE of that resolution, and we understood the challenges," explains Mechdyne's Richard Cashmore. "They had a very clear concept of what they wanted to do."

"We wanted to work with a company who could provide us with a holistic, integrated system, including structure, projection, and computers," explains Andras Kemeny, founder and head of Renault's Virtual Reality and Immersive Simulation Technologies Group. "While many of the leading manufacturers have provided exceptionally good support and advice, we found that Mechdyne was not bound to a specific technology. They were able to look at the entire technological landscape, and consider combinations of different brands and products. Their approach was very focused on our specific goals, rather than on whatever technology they favored."   

Renault's CAVE Raises the Bar for Virtual Reality DesignThe system includes five sides of Sony SXRD 4k projectors at 5.5k lumens, scalable to 16k - the first 16k VR environment anywhere in the world. "While there were some other options using newer DLP projection, ultimately, the Sony system delivered the fastest performance and the highest resolution, both of which were critical factors," observes Cashmore.

Kemeny adds, "In this case, the Sony projector Mechdyne specified was originally designed for cinema-based solutions. Calibrating multiple projectors was not something Sony had addressed. Sony provided us some data, and then our engineers at Renault and Mechdyne collaborated for several months to design a calibration protocol. We've been quite happy with the results."

Indeed, the collaboration between Renault and Mechdyne created a powerful synergy. "Originally, the relationship was that of client and provider, but over time it really evolved to where we were all really part of the same team," says Kemeny.

"I think that's one thing that's unique about our approach," observes Cashmore. "We really try and look at the project through the eyes of the end user. We're not trying to sell whatever technology we've got in stock. We can recommend what we feel is best for them, given their goals and the technologies available."

Though Renault's CAVE was initially created for interior ergonomic design, Kemeny reports that the technology has become popular with other departments within the organization.

"One thing that was very exciting for us was the fact that the CAVE was being embraced by various departments within Renault," he says. "Ultimately, this is enabling us to build a better vehicle."

In fact, the Renault CAVE has led to discussions with Daimler (parent company of Mercedes Benz) on a new collaborative project. "There has long been a strong working relationship between Renault and Daimler," says Kemeny.

"The collaboration with Mechdyne has given us the most state-of-the-art facility in the automotive industry," Kemeny concludes. "It's a system we can be very proud of."

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