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3 ways mixed reality is driving change in car development
May 12, 2023|8 Min
3 ways mixed reality is driving change in car development
“Mixed reality has already changed the way cars are designed with gaming engines like Unity. So it’s already here.” – Jussi Mäkinen, Chief Brand Officer at Varjo

Varjo, Volvo Cars, and Unity have a well-established collaborative partnership. This partnership brings together Varjo’s human-eye resolution headsets, Unity’s leading real-time 3D technology, and Volvo’s drive for innovation.

Drawing on their joint experiences, Varjo chief brand officer Jussi Mäkinen, Volvo innovation leader Timmy Ghiurau, and Unity director Jeff Hanks participated in a panel discussion at SXSW 2023. Each firmly agrees that mixed reality (MR) is an important technology for the automotive industry.

Here, we’ll explore the top three ways that mixed reality is already proving its worth. You can check out the full panel conversation on SXSW.com.

1. Not just for designers: Mixed reality benefits multiple workflows
Person wearing a mixed reality headset. The background is industrial tube lighting on the ceiling. The image shows the person from the shoulders up.

The automotive industry has wholeheartedly embraced mixed reality, and it’s changing the way cars are sold, engineered, designed, and repaired. As Ghiurau explains, Volvo Cars was an early adopter of real-time 3D – largely driven by his understanding of the potential of gaming technology to be applied in industry.

Their virtual twin of a Volvo car allows design and engineering teams to focus on how the machine interacts with the human, which he argues is essential to build trust between human and machine.

By adopting real-time 3D technology, teams at Volvo Cars are able to incorporate the human factor early in the design process, which allows them to consider unique challenges such as driver frustration and address them early on.

“With mixed reality, we are putting the human at the center to see how people might react to various scenarios or human factors like entertainment and stress.” – Timmy Ghiurau, Innovation Leader at Volvo Cars

Varjo partners with innovative companies across industries to create virtual and mixed reality (VR/MR) products and services for advanced users. As Mäkinen says, their experience clearly shows that the automotive industry is already feeling the benefits of mixed reality tech. These range from a reduced dependence on physical mockups for creating new vehicles, to allowing faster design iteration, greater creativity, and running more efficient testing scenarios.

As early adopters of real-time 3D and immersive technology, automotive companies are already reaping the benefits in key use cases like 3D product design and visualization, human machine interface (HMI), and immersive training.

2. Big data, interoperability, and removing barriers
Rear seat passenger uses a laptop to control a mixed reality experience for the vehicle driver, who wears a headset.

Connecting data silos is a fundamental challenge across the automotive industry. Real-time 3D is addressing that challenge by creating paths to interoperability, often through the medium of mixed reality. For example, by overlaying complex engineering data with design options in a mixed reality environment, stakeholders can envision design while retaining accurate engineering specifications. This single, visual source of truth enables design iteration to become a conversation between machine and aesthetics.

Take the recently launched Volvo EX90 for example. As Ghiurau explains, Volvo Cars used Varjo mixed reality throughout the design process of this model, and improved efficiency, faster build, and the ability to conduct real-time testing from the back seat were just a few of the benefits.

“The tools are already helping us to make design and engineering decisions more efficient and streamlined. With that saved time, we can explore other implications such as circular economy, sustainability, and other aspects.” – Timmy Ghiurau, Innovation Leader at Volvo Cars

Mäkinen explains how mixed reality delivers further benefits by enabling the interoperability of big data that allows more people from different backgrounds to access the information. Simply put, these solutions help developers, designers, and nontechnical end users to envision, interact with, and collaborate on complex processes more intuitively. The opportunity to better understand end-user challenges results in more inclusive solutions.

3. Democratization is the future, and mixed reality is the key
Three mixed reality headsets, all made by Varjo

What does democratization really mean, in the context of the automotive industry?

With real-time 3D, Volvo Cars can make simulators and mixed reality functionality available across multiple departments. Crucially, by using Unity, teams are able to adopt the technology for themselves – they’re not dependent on developers to build mixed reality solutions. Because of this democratization, the teams have found that their uses of mixed reality go beyond what was originally anticipated. Ghiurau cites examples of teams using the tech for simulating fluid dynamics and predicting crash test data flows.

Future success for automotive companies is dependent on the need to iterate and adapt faster. Many are using Unity’s real-time 3D tech to enable their visions of the future, including testing and simulating for long-term scenarios, or powering next-level infotainment systems. Mixed reality solutions enable teams to go beyond their immediate tasks to anticipate and influence the automotive future.

With technology advances like Varjo Reality Cloud and hand-and-eye tracking for menu option selections, the barriers to adopting mixed reality are disappearing everyday. Cross-team collaboration is truly possible in mixed reality.

Resources for further exploration

To learn more about what role mixed reality could have for Volvo Cars’ future, check out Timmy Ghiurau’s Unity Creator Day session.

Going beyond automotive design teams, there are numerous potential advantages to extending mixed reality to the creation of consumer experiences, such as:

  • Enhancing the driver’s experience: Navigation and infotainment systems could be improved by providing real-time information on the surroundings and road conditions through interactive dashboards or head-up displays (HUDs).
  • Improving driver safety: Automotive companies are working on the development of full-windshield HUDs, as well as sensors that can transmit real-time information about the vehicle conditions and environmental factors.
  • Supporting consumer maintenance: Interactive manuals contain simple step-by-step instructions and video tutorials that allow users to maintain some car functions.
  • Interactive sales experiences: Digital car showrooms give consumers a way to engage with and customize their potential purchases.

Contact us to discuss how real-time 3D and mixed reality could work for you, or check out our software suite for Industry.