durability test data into the design process without physically performing each test. VE promises to enhance the value of prototyping electronically by offering customers, sales staff, and engineers the ability to walk around the product and manipulate it in virtual space, much the same way as they would explore a physical mock-up in real space. A long-range goal is to create VE systems that can be extended to provide groups of individuals in different locations with the capability to work together in a shared virtual space.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina (Airey et. al., 1990) have worked on the development of software for creating interactive virtual building environments. This software can be used to present architectural walkthroughs of buildings that have not yet been constructed. In touring a virtual building, an individual will be provided with changing views and lighting that are consistent with his or her position relative to the building space. Such software can be useful for design of any interior spaces, including industrial buildings, hospital operating rooms, churches, homes, and aircraft passenger compartments, to name a few.
Another potentially important area for the application of VE technology is in the design and testing of the processing, fabrication, and assembly lines. Virtual pilot lines might be developed instead of real pilot lines to simulate human and machine tasks and make predictions about potential problems for human performance and safety as well as estimating the probability of failure and the line's expected operating efficiency. The promise is that virtual pilot lines will be far easier to modify in response to diagnosed problems than a physical pilot line, and they will provide the opportunity to introduce information on manufacturing efficiency early in the product design process. In addition, a virtual line could be run in parallel with an operating line for purposes of diagnosing failures, retooling for new products, or changing human-machine interface designs or procedures at points in the process at which errors or problems are occurring.
Although VE technology provides more of a promise than an existing capability for industry, several forces within various government and manufacturing enterprises will push for its development and use. From the industry perspective, VE technology has the potential to make the manufacturing process (from planning through sales) more flexible and economical. The aerospace, automobile, and textile industries are pursuing VE technology as a means for speeding development and making product modification easier. Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors have formed a VE consortium with the U.S. Army vehicle center, the automotive