In most industries including automotive, the implementation of modern technologies is one of the major factors for success in highly competitive markets.
Virtual Reality (VR) is one of these technologies that can help auto businesses get a number of significant benefits.
VR enables users to interact freely with three-dimensional objects within virtual environments through special hardware like head-mounted displays (HMDs).
This capability allows automotive companies to use the immersive technology for different purposes while saving their financial resources on manufacturing and managing physical assets.
Design and virtual prototyping
Vehicle design requires continuous improvement, reviews, and testing.
When working with physical mock-ups, frequent reverting to previous decisions or endless modifications, they all usually significantly raise the overall project cost.
Thus, car manufacturers may spend tremendous amounts of money until a certain design, at last, will be approved.
The design process is one of the most expensive and time-consuming stages in car manufacturing. Every time a team initiates any modifications to an existing mock-up, they have to create a new model.
Using virtual reality, car designers can significantly cut both project cost and time by visualizing the exterior of a vehicle virtually instead of creating a new physical mockup in 1:1 ratio each time they make some changes to a prototype.
Furthermore, a design team can implement car exterior modification in real-time using virtual mock-ups.
Virtual reality opens even broader opportunities for vehicle manufacturers. The most talented car designers from all over the world can work together on the same mock-up while physically being located on different continents.
Virtual reality provides wide capabilities for training engineers in the automotive industry. Most car manufacturers use an observation-based approach to train their workers to assemble particular car models.
After these workers go through a theoretical training process, they proceed to practice under the control of experts. This is the stage where workers can make some mistakes and, as a result, cause some damage to a particular model.
Virtual reality allows workers of automobile plants to learn in a virtual environment and safely make mistakes. VR makes the overall training process more efficient and significantly cuts the error rate.
Furthermore, when it comes to human safety, relying only on lecturers is not enough. When working with heavy car parts like an engine, specialists should adhere to safety rules.
VR allows safely putting assembly specialists into nearly any dangerous situation and teaching them how to behave properly under stress and life threats.
Virtual Reality showrooms
If you’ve ever had an experience of buying a new car, you’ve definitely visited a dealership to test-drive it. However, you hardly had a chance to review a car with the exact set of characteristics you consider purchasing.
Official car dealers usually have a few available car models. So, you rarely can see how your future car will look like in a certain color in reality until you get it. The same thing is with an interior and exterior.
That’s why dealers often offer online configurators that allow clients to customize the model on the website and see a flat image of how this car will look like in reality. However, 2D images provide a low level of realism.
Importing more models to dealerships isn’t a solution since the area of a building is limited. Furthermore, dealers strive to avoid the situation when extra cars remain unsold because car manufacturers regularly release restyled versions of particular models.
Nobody wants to pay for an outdated car as for a new one, and discounts lead to reduced profits for dealers. That’s why, to please their clients, dealerships should use another approach based on immersive technologies.
Within a virtual environment, clients can customize any car model in the way they’re going to purchase it. Using a VR HMD and haptic device, they will be able to virtually open a car door and get into the driver seat.
VR eliminates the need for renting larger areas and placing many cars in dealerships. Virtual showrooms can be easily and quickly implemented regardless of the size of a building a dealer rents.
Audi uses the immersive VR technology in their dealerships to provide customers with a highly realistic experience of their individually customized vehicle.
With a VR HMD, customers can individually configure their car and see every detail in a virtual environment, selecting from various equipment options. This positively influences customer shopping decisions since they can try out what they’re going to buy.
Audi’s VR solution allows clients to virtually see their future cars in 360 degrees with both light and sound effects. Furthermore, using virtual reality they can see their customized vehicles under different conditions like time of the day.
From the time a client makes an order, it can take up to a few months until they finally get a car. For example, Tesla Model 3 customers have been waiting for 2 years for their dream electric car.
Virtual reality allows car dealers to show their customers the future, which makes the immersive technology a perfect marketing instrument.
Safety of self-driving cars
Over the past few years, self-driving cars have made a huge step in their development. However, giant technology vendors like Google and Uber are still working on ensuring a high level of safety.
Unlike a human driver, autonomous cars must have massive predefined algorithms that will enable vehicles to handle absolutely any situation. Furthermore, any road factor should be encountered in those algorithms.
It’s impossible to predefine manually driving scenarios for an autonomous car since there are tons of them. The only way to teach a self-driving vehicle on how to behave in dangerous situations is to let it learn by driving and “memorizing” every situation it faces.
Therefore, to be effective, this training process has to take years. Car manufacturers can drastically reduce the time needed for training their self-driving vehicles by empowering testing software with the virtual reality technology.
Testing software is a system that analyzes traffic scenarios and helps a car “understand” how it should behave next time.
Based on a wide range of techniques and technologies like interactive editing, database importing, three-dimensional geometry transformation, distributed parallel computation, visualization, and modeling, testing software recognizes and memorizes road conditions.
Instead of driving hundreds of thousands of miles, car manufacturers can simulate real road conditions in virtual environments thus allowing testing software learn much faster since, in a virtual environment, a car needs no fuel and no repairing.
Today’s self-driving car testing cannot be done without a real driver inside to ensure the safety of other cars and pedestrians in the case of emergency or any system errors. With VR connected to testing software, there is no need in a human in the driver seat.
Autonomous car testing based on virtual reality greatly cuts expenses on fuel, planned repairing or rest for a human driver that has to keep an eye on vehicle’s behavior.
Furthermore, traffic simulations ensure a 100% safety for other vehicles and pedestrians. Within a virtual environment, self-driving cars can be safely tested without putting other people and property at risk.
In a virtual environment, an autonomous car system can safely make mistakes like heating pedestrians or crashing other cars, and memorize these situations to avoid them once it’s on a real road.
VR enables car manufacturers to test their cars under any weather conditions and in any location. The immersive technology can help vendors to ensure a high safety level for their autonomous vehicles with lower costs and reduced time.
How car manufacturers use VR
Worldwide known car manufacturers have already begun to implement virtual reality in their businesses. Let’s consider how Ford, Volkswagen, and Toyota use VR for their purposes.
Through a virtual laboratory, Ford allowed its designers and engineers to stay in different countries and collaborate on car design in real-time. The car manufacturer created “Ford’s Immersive Vehicle Environment,” also known as “FIVE”. It’s a special room equipped with sensors and a set of motion-capture markers placed on a user’s body.
The whole technology stack records a few thousands of data points that include a user’s body position, posture, and movements. To create real sham machinery for users to interact in a virtual environment, Ford uses 3D printing.
Through this interaction, engineers can make accurate calculations taking into account employee safety. The FIVE system helped the automaker to reduce employee injuries by 70% as well as cut ergonomic problems by 90%.
Car designers create vehicle exteriors using computer-aided design (CAD) software like Autodesk. Such solutions allow for 3D modeling. Unlike CAD software, the design process within the FIVE typically starts from sketching in a virtual reality.
However, CAD models can be easily imported into the FIVE experience thus speeding up the overall design process by enabling designers to turn their ideas into reality without any limitations of physical prototyping. All surfaces, textures, and colors will remain in the FIVE.
The effectiveness of the FIVE had been proved by 135,000 details inspected within one year. From 2013, the penetration of Ford’s virtual reality experience has been continuously growing.
This drastically changes the way the automaker produces vehicles, how fast it does it, and what financial benefits it gets with reducing the time on design and costs of allocating employees.
The largest automaker in the world as of 2018 decided to implement VR in a more saving manner than Ford. Instead of building expensive custom solutions like the FIVE, Volkswagen turned towards virtual reality through HTC VIVE, a VR head-mounted display.
The German car brand uses HTC VIVE for the same purpose as Ford does. The immersive VR technology allows Volkswagen’s engineers and designers to work on the same model remotely in real-time. While some of the employees are in the headquarters in Wolfsburg, others can remain in the Barcelona-based Seat factory.
Despite Ford’s FIVE provides a wide range of capabilities, it still has its drawbacks. Besides its cost, Ford’s VR experience allows only two employees to be immersed at the same time. Other experts involved in the design process have to do the paperwork.
With HMDs, multiple specialists can be immersed within a virtual reality, and there’s no need in many sensors. Thus, Volkswagen greatly saves costs and simplifies the collaboration of employees within their key functional areas.
The German car brand also uses the same VR approach to train its employees to assemble particular models. The immersive technology significantly facilitates the training process by enabling trainees to learn safely by doing in a virtual environment.
Toyota developed the virtual reality driving simulator called TeenDrive365. Aimed at using with Oculus Rift, the simulator allows students to experience driving a car in virtual reality before they get on the real road.
Enabled with realistic 3D graphics, animations, noises, and full simulations of road traffic, TeenDrive365 teaches trainees to be attentive on the road and avoid any distractions like texting or talking to annoying friends while driving.
VR realistically shows what can happen if young drivers ignore safety rules. Within a virtual environment, they can nearly feel the negative consequences of irresponsible behavior on the road.
The Japanese auto giant also used virtual reality technology for promotion purposes. They created a 360-degree video for HTC Vive to show their new hybrid Prius as a cutting-edge car.
While watching this video, users feel like being in a real driver seat and can drive on the virtual road. Unfortunately, it’s hard to determine how this video has influenced customer shopping decisions. However, this approach seems to be more effective than their other video advertising known as one of the worst commercials of 2016.
Virtual reality can help car manufacturers cut time-to-market and costs needed for designing and assembling vehicles. Used for training, the immersive VR technology allows car brands to greatly speed up and improve the training process and, as a result, increase their productivity.
In addition, car dealerships can increase their profits by allowing customers in virtual reality to customize their dream car and then safely test-drive it. VR also can significantly cut time-to-market for self-driving-cars by speeding up its safety system testing.
In other words, the automotive industry can significantly benefit virtual reality by using this technology for a number of use cases.