What does HORIBA MIRA do? An overview for STEM learners

Alisdair Bowie – Senior Software and Controls Engineer, joined HORIBA MIRA in 2011 after achieving a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Alongside his role in Software and Controls where he primarily develops control software for hybrid and electric vehicles, Alisdair is working to inspire children through his work as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Ambassador. As a STEM Ambassador, Alisdair volunteers his time and enthusiasm to help bring STEM subjects to life for young people. Here Alisdair delves into what HORIBA MIRA does day-to-day.

What does HORIBA MIRA do?
Engineers are problem solvers, so it will be no surprise that HORIBA MIRA, a vehicle engineering and test company, is a solution provider. Some customers want us to help them design a car, some want us to help them make it better. Some customers want us to freeze their cars, others want us to shake them to bits. Some customers even want us to crash their cars! We rarely get two projects that are the same, so there is a constant challenge to adapt to what each customer needs. This is the bit that keeps us on our toes! Sounds fun, right?

But where did it all begin?
We have to go back to December 1945 where the group below gathered in the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders headquarters in London and decided to create an automotive research facility. Following that meeting, MIRA, the Motor Industry Research Association, was born on the 1st January 1946, moving into laboratories of the Institute of Automobile Engineers (now part of the IMechE) in Brentford.

Smile for the camera guys!

Two years later, my predecessors decided that MIRA needed space to grow, so headed for sunny Nuneaton, our current home. Donnington Park and Silverstone were considered but as handy as rock music festivals and British Grands Prix are, they are slight distractions to engineers… RAF Lindley, just outside Nuneaton, was chosen as the site of the new MIRA headquarters. Formerly home to RAF Operational Training Units during the Second World War, the old airfield was a perfect location to build nearly 100km of specialised Proving Ground designed to test cars to their limits. The MIRA site in Nuneaton was officially opened in 1954 with the Minister for Transport invited to oversee proceedings on the test track and headquarter buildings (below).

Home sweet home!

In the 70 years since, our site near Nuneaton has grown exponentially. We’ve added multiple facilities including vehicle crash laboratories, engine test facilities, kinematics and compliance rigs, a full-size wind tunnel, battery testing facilities and Vehicle Environmental Test Chambers, where in 2013 Prince Harry spent a night preparing for the Walking With The Wounded South Pole Allied Challenge.

The Proving Ground has grown from the incredibly rough Belgian pave circuit (opened in 1950) as demonstrated by Top Gear, to more than 24 tracks which includes our famous high-speed circuit (the lap record is still held by the McLaren F1, after a 1998 run reaching a top speed of 196mph), tracks to develop connected and autonomous vehicles and a multi-story car park set to be the UK’s first facility to test automated parking.

196mph on the high-speed circuit…!

Now, if I was to say these facilities have been used exclusively for the development of cars then I would be telling fibs…

The bike Chris Boardman rode to gold in the 4km individual pursuit at the 1992 Olympic Games was developed in our wind tunnel, we developed a braking system for Lady Godiva’s Cyclopedia for her 2012 trip from Coventry to London, saw how fast NFL star Jason Bell could run on our wet surface track, had a ‘near naked’ man cycling in the wind tunnel, and we even crashed a dinosaur for Bill Oddie. Seriously.

In July 2015 we were purchased by HORIBA, a Japanese company that provide instruments and systems to many different industries, including the automotive sector. Since then, our growth and development has continued. We’ve seen investment to create a new Propulsion Test and Development Centre and an Advanced Emissions Test Centre both of which ensure that the next generation of engines and vehicles meet ever more stringent emissions regulations while still meeting the performance drivers expect.

Our energy efficiency team continue to develop hybrid and electric vehicles to minimise fuel economy and maximise vehicle range through unique simulation techniques and innovative design solutions. All part of our mission to make journeys cleaner. The crash laboratory continues to test the latest cars to crash standards from all over the world although the market for dinosaurs is sadly extinct… Our kinematics and compliance rigs continue to shake road and race cars around, helping to tune suspension and chassis systems, while our components team test just about every system, big and small, on a car.

Want to build a car from scratch or want to make sure your car is safe? Our functional safety team can guide manufacturers through the process and designs required to do this. As cars can now connect to the internet (what can’t?) our Vehicle Resilience team ensures these new functions don’t affect other parts of vehicles and are also secure! All part of our mission to make journeys safer. Did you know cars can now drive themselves? Our connected and autonomous vehicle team develop them here at HORIBA MIRA, one of which was sampled by the Duke of Cambridge during his visit in May 2018. All part of our mission to make journeys smarter.

So, what does HORIBA MIRA do? Everything except make showers!