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BMW uses world-first mixed reality system for vehicle development

24 March 2017

BMW is using Virtual Reality technology from computer games to help its stylists, engineers and ergonomists to work more quickly and efficiently.

BMW has become the first car manufacturer to introduce a mixed reality system  into vehicle development

By combining 3D printed prototype components with a Virtual Reality environment developed using Unreal Engine’s real-time physics-based rendering engine, the German automotive company can evaluate more design options and progress designs further before prototypes are built.

Using Unreal Engine, areas such as interior designs, window sizing and vehicle functionality can be rapidly modelled to provide immersive visualisation. This makes it possible to simulate drives through a city while testing what the all-round view of the surrounding area is like or whether a display is poorly legible or awkward to reach depending on the viewing angle or seat position. Switchgear and surfaces of the driving environment can readily be assessed interactively for ergonomics as well as aesthetics and design quality. All the time, the development engineer has the impression of sitting in a real car in a real driving situation, with real physical touch-points.

Simon Jones, Director of Unreal Engine Enterprise, explained the growing excitement surrounding the use of real-time VR in automotive design and engineering: “The arrival of relatively low cost, high fidelity VR has coincided with a rapid escalation in the need to do more with less and to do it faster,” he said: “BMW’s new mixed reality system is a great example of what can be achieved with clever thinking.”

Collaboration supported by VR responding to industry forces and shaping trends

A mixed reality VR capability also facilitates global collaboration within companies. With a system of this kind, designers and colleagues from around the world can contribute to reviews, evaluating and even optimising the model in real-time, without having to travel.

The system also helps to address the industry trend of model proliferation, which requires engineers and designers to develop more models within the available resources. New technology integration is also high on the list of benefits, for example the interfaces with active safety systems such as collision avoidance technology, which can be tested on simulated journeys in VR to evaluate cognitive load on the vehicle driver before committing the costs and time of physical car prototypes.

VR technology is driving significant and rapid change across a range of industrial sectors, including architecture, construction and aviation, but vehicle manufacturers in particular value the level of believability that Unreal Engine brings to the design process, as Jones concludes: “Virtual reality and Unreal Engine are becoming a crucial part of automotive design validation,” he says. “Car makers are defining the parameters and the Unreal Engine tools deliver the platforms they need, allowing engineers and stylists much greater freedom to explore different themes in a way that wasn’t previously possible with costly physical prototypes because they take so long to build and update.”

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