Developing a Mass Production-Type Motion Simulator Game for the Virtual Reality Age

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"We managed to develop a four-axis, high-maneuverability simulator with more dynamic motion than existing simulators in just six months, twice as fast as our initial estimate of one year."

- JiSuk Lee, Motion Device Inc.

The Challenge:
Startups in their nascent stages commonly experience a shortage of development staff and experienced developers. One such startup, Motion Device Inc., found it difficult to develop a mass production-type VR simulator under these circumstances.

The Solution:
Motion Device Inc. used LabVIEW software and the Motion Control Module to quickly develop commercial software from a zero base. We could conduct R&D in a variety of fields, from actuator control to collecting a wide range of external signals. As a result, we managed to develop a four-axis, high-maneuverability simulator with more dynamic motion than existing simulators in just six months, twice as fast as our initial estimate of one year.

Author(s):
JiSuk Lee - Motion Device Inc.


Motion Device Inc. is a motion simulator startup that launched in 2013. We have sold 150 units of our motion simulator Top Drift, and are constantly developing and introducing new simulators fitted with virtual reality (VR) content to deliver immersive experiences to the public.

Until now, the simulator market has been a high-cost market based on customized production. Consider the simulators that pilots practice in before they begin operating actual aircraft. To make such a training simulator, you need a six-axis simulator that the subject can board, control software based on a mathematical model of an actual aircraft, and image content capable of expressing the aircraft's motion onscreen. Produced in this way, the simulator has a very limited range of customers, which means that all of the money put into its development has to be added to its retail price. This results in a market structure in which we cannot manufacture general-purpose mass production products.

The VR market has grown recently thanks to head-mounted display (HMD) products such as Oculus Lift. The market demand for motion simulators capable of dramatically increasing the immersiveness of the VR experience has also grown rapidly. However, thus far, there has been practically no market for mass production-type motion simulators that deliver content and synchronized motion at reasonable prices. Motion Device Inc. manufactures and mass produces platform-based motion simulators that can synchronize a wide variety of content to accommodate such needs. To accomplish this, in our early days, not only did we have to carry out both design and control tasks in a short period of time with insufficient manpower, but we also had to ensure the reliability and safety of the simulators because they were manned.

The VR market has grown rapidly, with the chief catalyst being varied content in the fields of medicine, education, and entertainment. Of these, the fastest-growing field is entertainment, which includes games. Many content developers that develop 2D and 3D games are now expanding into VR. Things like VR experience zones, which are easily found in areas with a high floating population, indicate such a trend. Basically, VR content provides a new visual and auditory experience using an HMD. However, content producers who have realized the limitations of this have attempted to offer more immersive VR experiences by providing realistic physical movement through synchronization with motion simulators. When the VR market began growing, the motion simulator market was filled only with high-priced equipment. The closed nature of the market yielded a negative response to the idea of synchronizing with external content. Motion Device Inc. believed that for the VR market to be popularized, the costliness and nature of the market needed to change. To that end, we have made platform-based simulators affordable for ordinary content companies.

Our varied motion-interactive game simulators made for such purposes have been installed in shopping malls, theme parks, and VR experience game spaces. These simulators target people in their 20s and 30s who want to enjoy their free time with their families and loved ones in city centers. Response to these simulators has been passionate. In the long term, we plan to provide a new space called Urban Virtual Reality Theme Park.

Figure 1. People Enjoying Motion Interactive Simulators


Leading Up to the Development and Mass Production of Motion Simulator Technology

Motion simulator software receives a signal from the content, and this forms the basis of motion control. Based on this data, it gives motion control commands to each respective actuator at rapid intervals, taking into account their physical performance, so that the user can be immersed more deeply in the VR content. The most important and essential capability of such a motion simulator is to move accurately as commanded. In the early stages of system development, we researched how to control motors that had undergone a variety of tests. However, a single software developer who had just graduated from college struggled to do everything from connecting the motors to controlling them. After searching for the best programming language for new engineers who were unfamiliar with both the hardware and software, we adopted LabVIEW and NI’s motion controller. Afterward, these inexperienced engineers learned to control the motors in their desired directions through pre-completed examples. In addition, we resolved the tasks we had difficulty conducting in the early stages of adoption, such as hardwiring and programming, with technical help from NI engineers who visited our company.

Selecting LabVIEW as the main development programming language enabled a new engineer to implement everything from motor operation to complex simulator control in as little as three months. Afterward, thanks to the unique LabVIEW graphical system, whenever we added a new engineer to the development team, they could quickly and intuitively understand code, and they became skillful enough to upgrade the actual program within a week.

 

Figure 2. System Configuration Diagram

At this juncture, not everyone needs to be a computer scientist, but many engineers must do programming in unfamiliar areas to resolve new tasks. In these circumstances, LabVIEW is thought to be the best programming language for non-programming majors to use to complete tasks in the fields of measurement and control with ease and speed. To take an example from our own company, many of the motions we aimed to implement already existed as examples. Therefore, a bit of modification to these examples or combining different examples was all we needed to do to implement our desired features. For any motions that could not be implemented in this way, we searched a number of LabVIEW libraries and sources for relevant terms and adopted the features accordingly.

In addition to LabVIEW, we also used an NI motion controller, so we could instantly incorporate code written using LabVIEW. Another benefit is that we rarely incur compatibility problems when using software and hardware developed by the same company. For most applications that are not NI products, the hardware provider and the programming language developer are not the same company, which can lead to hardware driver compatibility problems. If such a problem occurs, the cause can rarely be identified. Users may then need  to resolve the problem through discussions with each respective company. This process is very complicated with unclear accountability. This increases the time it takes to resolve the problem. In this regard, using software and hardware developed by NI helped us to solve problems quickly, because NI is responsible for both the software and hardware.
With LabVIEW, we could quickly resolve the motion control hurdles we experienced early in development and complete the project in a short period of time, making the simulator mass producible after only six months of development. Since Motion Device Inc. aims to produce platform-type motion simulators, in the development process, we needed to test a variety of sensors and actuators that can be attached to the simulator without any limitation. For instance, depending on the content, a wide variety of options may be required, including a safety belt and safety fence signals for safety, coin device signals and emergency stop signals for unmanned operation, leap motion and kinetic signals for checking body movement, and fan control to make the experience more realistic. We designed these modules to be measured and controlled with various systems such as digital I/O, analog I/O, and communication methods. The engineer in charge must synchronize the relevant modules to the main program. With its modular programming structure, LabVIEW makes it easy to turn these varied applications into one modular program block, so the engineer can load the necessary modules by simply dragging and dropping them.

A motion-interactive simulator requires synchronization between its hardware part, in which the passenger rides, and its content, which is viewed by them. The content can either be a game or a prerecorded image. In this process, we needed to define a method for synchronizing content and hardware. Commonly, game content is developed with dedicated game development tools such as Unity and Unreal, and programming languages such as C#. In the case of video tools, a variety of professional programs are also used. To deal with all such cases, we designed a general protocol. We also synchronized between heterogeneous software applications and heterogeneous data using the LabVIEW communication library. In this process, many of the challenges of applying existing communication examples according to the situation occurred. We used the Q&A and Open Source bulletin boards of Mylv.net, a Korean community of LabVIEW users, to address these challenges. The Q&A bulletin board in particular helped us accelerate the development process because users answered questions we asked on the board almost within the same day.

 

 

A Simulator That Provides a New Experience Through AI and VR

VR has developed steadily over the past few decades, but due to technological limitations, it has had practically no effect on our lives so far. However, with displays getting ever smaller and graphics cards getting ever faster, the era of VR is gradually unfolding and centering on HMD. In step with rising public interest, the amount of money invested is also increasing astronomically. Behind the rapid growth of VR is competition to make VR more realistic, a phenomenon that expands into the VR simulator market. In response to such expectations, the mass production-type motion simulator offered by Motion Device Inc. provides high-performance motion that is rational and highly interoperable with content. We expect the simulator’s VR content, which merges stunningly with motion, to keep the ever-volatile market interested in VR. We foresee that by the time the VR market becomes popular, a new market will help people enjoy new experiences in city centers as well as in their homes.

As the VR market is in its infancy, given domestic and overseas investment budgets, we expect it to grow explosively over the next three years. In addition to our current products, Motion Device Inc. also constantly carries out research projects in which we endeavor to come up with a lineup of various simulators that can implement new motions and eventually sell/provide all of them as open-platform products. The lineup will include not only the existing applications for racing, but also various other applications for aviation, boating, and more. We also plan to make it possible for content developers to select and use simulators suitable for their own content. Furthermore, we also aim to bring even newer experiences to people by using VR and AI technologies.

 

Author Information:
JiSuk Lee
Motion Device Inc.
jslee@mdamuse.com

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