1923 Alfa Romeo RLS

The first major project that we're working on at the Innovation Circle is a high fidelity interactive simulation of the start sequence for a 1923 Alfa Romeo RLS; an incredible vehicle that can be found on display at QVMAG Inveresk.  The Alfa RLS that the QVMAG have in their collection is one of only five left in the world and is the only known example of the vehicle which still has its original bodywork intact.

The Alfa RLS at QVMAG has a fascinating history.  It was originally purchased by a Launceston businessman by the name of Gordon Fysh.  At that point in time, cars were imported as a chassis and engine and all of the body work needed to be prepared by the purchaser.  The coachwork for this particular car was made locally in Tasmania and that coachwork is still part of the car today.

Fysh's Alfa Romeo was the first car in Tasmania to travel at 100 miles per hour and, as a racing vehicle, was the first Alfra Romeo to win a major event outside of Europe.

1923 Alfa Romeo RLS on display at QVMAG Inveresk

In short, it's a pretty amazing vehicle!

But...that's not all.  Not only is this a fantastic vehicle for display in the museum, but it's all still in full working order.  Staff at the museum have successfully started the car and driven it since it has entered the collection and it's still possible now to take it out of mothballs, fuel it up and take it for a drive.  They just don't build them like they used to!

If you were to take the 1923 Alfa out for a spin, however, you'd very likely run into a pretty major problem right away.  The Alfa is a complicated beast to start.  The start sequence involves about seven discreet steps; get something wrong, or do things in the wrong order, and the car won't start.  In fact, it's about as far from starting a modern car as you could imagine -- in many ways, it's closer to starting a light aircraft than it is to starting a car that was built today.

Alfa Digital Interactive

Wouldn't it be great if we could let visitors to the museum experience the start sequence of the Alfa Romeo RLS for themselves?

This is the idea behind the Alfa RLS Digital Interactive that we're building at the Innovation Circle.  The goal of the project is to build a high fidelity simulation of the start sequence for the 1923 Alfa Romeo RLS, including all of the correct switches, levers, dials and gauges, all attached to a simulation model that runs on a custom built computer system.

The simulation will also include sounds and vibration information which will have been captured from the real car.  The Alfa Digital Interactive will be as close to the real thing as we can manage and will be intended to let museum visitors really experience what it was like to learn to start a car in the 1920s.  We're even planning on taking real-time weather conditions into account.  After all, if you wanted to start a car in 1923, you'd have a do things a little differently on a rainy day!

Not only are we planning on creating as accurate and compelling a simulation as we can, we're also keen to create a fun and memorable learning experience.  To this end, we've invented a character that we're calling the "Sassy Mechanic".  It is our intention that the Sassy Mechanic will be the guide that helps visitors to the museum to figure out how to start the car.  The mechanic himself will be projected using a technique known as "Pepper's Ghost", which can be used to create a holographic effect.  In this way, the mechanic will be able to pop up beside the car whenever there's an opportunity to impart some sassy wisdom.

It is our aim that the Alfa RLS Digital Interactive will be both an accurate simulation of the start sequence of the 1923 Alfa Romeo, as well as a memorable and entertaining experience for everyone who takes the time to give the interactive a try.

Our Process

We are following an iterative development process for our work on the Alfa RLS Digital Interactive.  Initially, we will develop low-fidelity prototypes that will provide a proof of concept for the project as a whole and will ensure that we troubleshoot problems with the simulation model early.  As we start to fine-tune the various moving parts, we'll then add more realism to the physical prototype, until we are confident we have all of the bugs worked out, at which point we'll look at building the final exhibition-ready version of the interactive.

We are currently in the early stages of prototyping for this project. This includes getting basic end to end communication between a physical prototype (at this stage, an Arduino kit) and a computer. We're prototyping within the Unity 3D game engine, which allows us to work with a 3D representation of the cars dashboard, allowing for rapid iteration. We're also creating a low fidelity physical representation of the dashboard - we've cut a sheet of MDF to give us a life size mock-up and are printing 3D parts to give the dash a dose of authenticity.

As time goes on, we'll continue to update this page to capture our progress to date, and will share stories of the Alfa Interactive development process through the Innovation Circle blog.