Technology is evolving faster than it ever has before. 40 years ago, ‘computer’ was not a household word. Since the turn of the millennium, phones have evolved from the trustworthy and tough Nokia 3310 to the mind-blowing capabilities of the iPhone 7.
Tech companies constantly battle to release the biggest and best inventions from game consoles to smartphones. The digital technology industry is currently growing faster than any other industry in the UK, contributing approximately 93 billion pounds a year to the economy.
Virtual reality is being seen across brands to give their customers a feel for products before they actually purchase them. From in-store retailers such as North Face right through to car manufacturers such as Jaguar and Audi, virtual reality is offering an immersive experience to effectively ‘try before you buy.’
A report from digital agency SapientNitro said: “Virtual reality is going to fundamentally transform the human experience of shopping,” predicting that it would, “lift sales for those retailers who get ahead of the curve.” With virtual reality software becoming more of a household name, it’s seemingly becoming more popular with retailers across the world when looking for cutting-edge marketing techniques.
High-end manufacturers are utilising these experiences with many seeing an increase in sales as a result. Jaguar has previewed models including the F Type, F Face and Discovery Sport with Robert Herd, head of communications at Jaguar Land Rover UK saying: “Initially consumers think it’s a gimmick but they quickly convert and it is driving a lot of additional car sales for us.” Benefits are being seen for high-end retailers across the globe making virtual reality a valuable marketing tool.
Since the first flight simulator in the 1920’s, virtual reality (VR) has been on the minds of many technology experts. Professionals soon started to realise the benefits of this new concept and began developing new ways for it to be used.
As virtual reality improved over the years, it became ever-more relied upon in the aerospace and military industries. Trainees are able to learn difficult manoeuvres without leaving the ground, reducing the risk of death or injury and saving the respective industries a lot of money.
Virtual reality headsets or head-mounted displays (HMD) were created in 1961 to help helicopter pilots fly in complete darkness. Small infrared cameras would send images of the surroundings to the HMD. The camera’s angle would correspond with the pilot's head movements offering an unparalleled flying experience. These technologies are continuing to develop and are an important part of the training process.
The military is increasingly using virtual reality to train their staff in dangerous situations. Gaming technologies such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are bringing cost effective solutions to the table, which is essential for government funded industries.
Tech companies are often battling for first place with new products being released at cheaper prices to attract new customers. This competition benefits the consumer as new advances are released quickly at a lower cost. Virtual reality systems are becoming more accessible every day, with the cost of this specialised equipment recently dropping to below £700.
The introduction of VR in the military is giving non-combat personnel such as medics the opportunity to work within combat scenarios without the associated risks. Medics must be able to focus in some of the most difficult situations and new technologies can make training for these situations much easier than ever before.
The Human Interface Technology department at the University of Birmingham has developed a VR scenario that incorporates helicopter turbulence and the sound of machine gun fire into the scene. This unrivalled technology will hopefully save many lives in the future.
Gaming is a massive sector within the entertainment industry. According to the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, the global gaming industry is worth $99.6billion. With approximately 31.6million people playing games in the UK alone, it’s not surprising that companies are constantly trying to come up with the newest, most exciting consoles.
The integration of motion sensors in products such as the Nintendo Wii in 2006 and augmented reality (AR) hitting the high street with Pokémon Go in 2016 has increased physical interaction with the gaming world.
As with other areas of science and technology, virtual reality and simulator systems have greatly improved in the last century. One of the original, less serious, applications of VR was to improve the gaming experience of dedicated players. It is still one of the main industries for VR and the release of the Oculus Rift was purely intended for gaming.
The idea of virtual reality gaming is to put the player in the game. Their actions will determine how the game plays out, with the use of motion sensor gloves or special handheld devices to control virtual hands for example. In terms of gameplay, the person is more involved than ever before.
Virtual reality has already become very accessible. Advances in the technology have seen the likelihood of motion sickness lessen. Concerns still exist over personal safety whilst playing with VR headsets however it seems as though the benefits of this advanced technology will out-weight any negatives.
We can be sure to expect VR to become part of our daily lives in the future, whether that be travelling to exotic parts of the world from the comfort of your sofa, as part of the education system or visiting your GP without leaving the house.
One of Accuride's most recent customer projects, which went into series production, was the development of an electrically operated sliding armrest for a luxury vehicle. As well as the ergonomic functionality, the armrest also serves as a small storage compartment that is easy to reach by both the driver and passenger.
While manually adjusted armrests need detents or latching systems to keep them in the end positions, this electrically operated armrest automatically moves to the end position, or can be put in any intermediate position by the driver. In addition, the driver can select the cup holder position. This just gives access to the cup holder while keeping the compartment underneath closed.
Thanks to its compact design, the Accuride sliding system does not require any compromise regarding the shape or the trim of the armrest. And while the extra comfort comes with a small penalty on weight compared to traditional systems, the unit is surprisingly light thanks to the clever use of aluminum and plastic. The motor and the sensors connect to the car via a single automotive grade harness and connector.
Accuride developed the armrest slide in close cooperation with the customer’s engineers. Together they optimized both design and manufacturability to ensure a compact, yet cost-effective and compelling slide design.
Here’s what Mike Harvey, the lead engineer at Accuride, says about the development project:
‘As this was a completely new armrest concept, both the automotive customer and our design team were treading in new territory with this project. We developed a great working relationship with our customer, supporting each other throughout the project. With the communication flowing so well all challenges were handled quickly and efficiently, culminating in a fantastic product that we are all proud of.
Every engineer loves new challenges and this project certainly provided that for me. For this reason, and the great relationship we have with our customer, means that this project is one of the best projects I’ve had the pleasure of working on.
For me, as the project manager, the project was a very special challenge. Accuride acts as a Tier-1 supplier here so we dealt directly with the OEM. Since an electrical system comprises many more externally sourced parts than a traditional automotive slide, there was much more focus on supply chain development than in traditional projects. Thanks to the team, both at the customer and at Accuride, we succeeded in mastering this challenge and delivered the project on time with the expected quality level.’
Just like Accuride's mechanical armrest slides, this electric sliding system is assembled on a semi-automatic machine and is automatically 100% inspected by a dedicated system. The values recorded during inspection are 100% traceable via the label applied to the slide. The system fulfills the OEM's operating and abuse specifications and supports the console in passing the crash test by keeping the lid in place even in such conditions.
While the cost of electrical operation is obviously higher than traditional manually operated sliding systems, it is able to integrate several potentially costly latching and unlocking systems. In addition it allows Tier-1s and OEMs to offer their customers a totally new level of convenience - an excellent differentiator in the competitive market for luxury vehicles.
With developers looking for innovative ways to meet these demands, especially in built-up city areas, there has been a rise in ‘smart living’ – a concept to make life more efficient, more controllable, economical, productive, integrated and sustainable. These spaces, although adaptable in their function, offer substantially less space for the inhabitants than previous new-builds.
There has been a dramatic increase in the build of micro apartments, especially where building land supply is low and therefore expensive. Five years ago the phrase wasn’t being used, but now these micro apartments are appearing in major cities world-wide.
Although the term ‘micro apartment’ is new, for the British they are just a modern version of the bedsit. Bedsits, or studio apartments, usually consist of a single room with every amenity included. These rooms are designed for those on low incomes and students, so the comfort is fairly basic – but at an affordable price.
However in major cities, like London, rent for city centre, one bedroom apartments can easily reach figures of £3,000 a month for a very basic room. For young professionals, who don’t want to flat-share, the only alternative is to commute from more affordable areas. The price of housing along these transport corridors is continuing to rise as a result.
As property prices increase in space-deprived cities, so do rental rates. Landlords and developers are now realising the profitable potential for luxury small apartments in city centres. Through innovative solutions and ingenuity, bulky furniture and fittings can be re-designed to maximise the space and give tenants the space of a much larger apartment.
RIBA’s Case for Space* investigates the need for more space in houses that are being developed across the UK. These spaces are often being built to meet requirements rather than the need for comfort, with the average new home being built in Britain meeting only 92% of the recommended minimum size.
From their research, it was found that newly built homes are failing to provide two of the top three things home buyers were looking for; adequate indoor and outdoor space. With over 48% of those surveyed saying they didn’t have enough space to entertain visitors, these homes are not only having a social impact, but are also having a knock-on effect on health and education.
These figures are representative of the UK home buying market - our European neighbours offer newly built homes that are 80% larger than in the UK.
With innovative design solutions, everything from hidden kitchens to surprisingly spacious storage can be incorporated cleverly to ensure nothing is lost within these compact homes.
Sliding components remove the wasted space that is taken up by traditional hinged doors. Room dividers that double up as shelving and the efficient use of all vertical space can help to create significantly more living areas.
A very popular UK TV series called ‘George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces’ has highlighted the very ingenious ways that people have embraced this concept of ‘smart living’. The programme has encouraged new ways of looking at how we can live in small and affordable places.
Plain bearing guides are a natural progression for Accuride. Expanding on Accuride’s already established product ranges of partial or full extension ball guides, linear plain bearings seemed to compliment this range, while also adding something new.
Plain bearings have a range of important factors. The polymer bearing needs to have a low frictional force against its counter surface and to maintain a low rate of wear. This is helped by having a hard counter surface; in this case hard anodised aluminium.
Accuride’s new linear friction guide range benefits from many unique design features. The track design has an extruded cavity which runs through the internal length to help reduce weight and material usage and ultimately also reduces the end cost for customers. The guides also benefit from having equal wear capabilities when they are either top, under mount or side loaded. This means that no matter which way up you use these guides, their life span is always the same.
We conducted a vast amount of testing to narrow down our search for the perfect materials to use in our friction guide range. Once the top performing polymers had been selected, they then went under further, more specific environmental wear testing.
Our in house testing facility is great for our standard product ranges, but the new linear guides required a high degree of testing.
New test machines had to be designed and built so that we could test the product to the limits in terms of speed, wear and temperature. The new plain bearing guides can also last many millions of metres while in operation, so full and over length cycle testing had to take place.
Yes, at Accuride we constantly test the limits of any new and existing designs so that we can offer customers constantly improved products that can withstand higher loads and perform for longer. Any knowledge gained from testing is always incredibly useful to put back into the design and concept process.
Back in 2007, electric car pioneers, Tesla Motors hadn’t yet released a car and most electric vehicles available were either milk floats, golf carts or the G-Wiz.
The heavily critiqued G-Wiz had a range of just 50 miles with a charge time of eight hours, making it very impractical for the majority of the population. In 2010, just 138 electric cars were sold in the UK. Compare that to the second half of 2016 when more than 66,000 plug-in electric vehicles were registered. World-wide the 2016 figure is estimated at 1.3m cars.
As technological breakthroughs increase, the practicality of electric vehicles has become a much better alternative to the traditional combustion engine. So much so, that German politicians have called on their Government and the EU to ban the combustion engine in vehicles by the year 2030.
Every major manufacturer of cars around the world is developing or has developed a fully electric car – with even non-automobile manufacturers such as Google and Apple entering the market.
Luxury electric vehicle manufacturer, Tesla, has been a market leader since 2010 with the introduction of the Model S. It has corporate styling with heavy lines and a minimalist interior that wouldn’t look out of place in a high-rise office reception.
But in the last year, there has been a boom in the plug-in electric car market with big announcements from Jaguar and Lucid Motors, a Chinese backed auto start-up. These latest cars can give us a glimpse at what the future of electric looks like.
Although it is still at the concept stage, the interior of Jaguar’s I-Pace is reminiscent of a chic lobby with neutral sandy tones covering the dashboard and seats plus rustic wooden inserts in the centre console and across the dashboard.
It’s no coincidence that Jaguar’s promotional video is set in a desert environment; they want the outside world to flow inside the car and break down the barrier between the two. The roof features a large glass panel that floods the interior with light during the day and allows the passengers to gaze at the stars at night.
Auto manufacturers bring their customers and passengers closer to nature with innovative methods that enhance the experience. Even futuristic Tesla feature an extended windscreen that stretches over the head of the driver to give panoramic views.
Lucid Motors, a start-up motor company in California, has recently released their latest car, the Lucid Air, which looks very different from today’s motors. The back seats resemble something closer to the rear of a luxury wooden powerboat with finishes in wood and leather to give the feeling that you are floating on the French Riviera.
As concerns for the wellbeing and sustainability of the environment grow, so too has the interest in electric vehicles and the financial commitment from manufacturers. It is only fitting that those who have a connection to the environment by going electric are made to feel closer to nature through the interior design.
Watch the video from camper trailer manufacturer 'Into the Wild Overland' to see how clever use of Accuride's 9308 heavy duty locking slide is used to mount their equipment.