Automotive Engineering

Virtual Reality for a Perfect Design

| Author / Editor: Christian Otto / Janina Seit

For the development of a car’s design, the automotive industry mostly uses physical models. But these models are inflexible. A new platform transfers this design process into virtual reality.

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Design in virtual space: models can be exchanged in a flexible way and above all, international teams can work together more easily.
( Source: Mackevision )

Using Virtual Reality glasses to view models or surfaces is not a new thing. The computer games industry has been going even further: it allows users to immerse directly in the scenery and to interact with it. Having almost become a matter of everyday life in entertainment, VR has yet to establish itself as a digital tool in the automotive industry.

Virtual reality is especially useful when it comes to designing a vehicle. Computer-aided design has been used in this area for some time now. But in most cases, there is still the need for a breakthrough: A model made of industrial plastic instead of clay makes the vehicle proportions available in three dimensions. Depending on the design phase, however, such a model only represents one configuration. These static restrictions hardly allow for rapid adaptations.

Mackevision Medien Design has recognized the opportunity to contribute its virtual reality know-how to the development of automobiles. Headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, the approximately 510-strong company specializes in Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), including 3D visualization, animation and visual effects (VFX). In recent years, Mackevision has made a name for itself with web or showroom configurators for well-known car manufacturers.

Communication as a Key Factor

Several designers or developers can work on the vehicle simultaneously and from different locations.
Several designers or developers can work on the vehicle simultaneously and from different locations.
( Source: Mackevision )

The three-dimensional visualization of vehicles has enabled the company to establish close contacts with the industry and with designers and engineers for a long time. From these contacts, the Mackevision team has learned that the digital conversion not only of the finished model, but also of the design process would offer a great deal of added value. Therefore, Mackevision developed a collaboration platform called Shared Studio VR, which transfers this process into virtual reality.

"The main difference of our approach is that you don’t work alone by just putting on glasses and view a design model in 3D,"explains Kian Saemian, Senior Business Development Manager at Mackevision: "With the Shared Studio VR, you can work with an unlimited number of colleagues on the virtual object simultaneously. Each user has his or her own avatar, so that everyone can see each other in the virtual space, communicate, interact and work with the product.”

Designers can walk around the vehicle and discuss gap dimensions, for instance. One can enter desired changes directly into the system via the post-it function. This means that the viewed component can be marked with a virtual post-it that contains written or spoken information. All changes are transferred to a back-end system and registered. “We are working much more efficient, faster and cheaper. Errors can be corrected. In addition to that, different design versions can be compared. There is no such degree of flexibility in the real world," Saemian says.

Connecting International Teams

Shared Studio VR also offers the possibility for designers from different locations around the world to work together in a virtual space. Geographical distances are therefore not an obstacle. Once a design basis is in place, there are countless ways to modify it. This means that the individual design preferences of the various target markets can also be incorporated in a better way.

The platform is well received by the industry: "OEMs are showing great interest and we are already exchanging ideas with them very actively", reveals initiator Saemian. Armin Pohl, CEO of Mackevision, confirms the interest in Shared Studio VR: "This is where the trend is going. VR is the future. In a design team, this technology can be adapted at a faster or a slower pace. But in our contacts with the industry we realize that VR is compulsory."

Major suppliers also acknowledge the development of virtual reality as an important approach. Just as with OEM customers, suppliers are transforming their traditional methods and processes. The fact that the technology is spreading so widely is mainly due to the increasing quality of the software and hardware. In addition, costs for these applications have also fallen drastically in recent years: "A few years ago, these glasses cost up to € 10,000. Now, this technology is affordable for everyone," explains Saemian.

The fact that Mackevision, as a non-industry-specific company, can offer such a product this quickly is also the result of its agile internal structures: "We have no team dedicated to developing this application. If we move a concept forward, we choose the best people from different areas — such as design, real-time and art department — and try to incorporate the best ideas from all fields," says Saemian. This approach differs from the usual procedures in the automotive industry. Mackevision CEO Pohl sees this as a definite advantage: "We tackle projects without blinkers.”

This article was first published by Automobil Industrie.

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