Augmented reality and virtual reality. Each has a big impact on the cars we drive today, from design to dealership and our experience behind the wheel. We’re taking a look at how tech like VR simulators, virtual engineering and in-car applications such as head-up displays are changing the game. This is how AR and VR are fast becoming the next big milestone in automotive progress.
Practice makes perfect
In motorsport, manufacturers, teams and drivers use simulators to advance their intense on-track development programmes. This work is key, with drivers spending around 100 hours in the sim rig for every hour spent on track.
Racking up the virtual miles allows teams to expose drivers to ever eventuality they might face in a race – ensuring they’re prepared for all outcomes, however unforseen.
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Conditions can be tailored to match the real world, with temperature, track surface and circuit evolution all variables. All this combines to ensure drivers have a good idea how the car will feel come Free Practice 1 or lap one of the race, wherever in the world that may be. In a sport of fine margins, this can provide the edge.
Steering input, throttle and brake pedal feel, movement of the car in its physics and tyre modelling is as close as possible to the real thing. In fact, sim development is continuing as fast as innovation on-track, as teams strive to get one-up on their rivals.
Design and Prototyping
Computer aided design and engineering software packages have been routinely used in modelling everything from crash structure and chassis design, aerodynamics and suspension geometries for decades now.
The extension of this software can be seen in solutions such as Jaguar’s ‘Virtual Reality Centre’ at its Design and Engineering Centre in Gaydon, England. It houses a three-dimensional 'cave' enabling full-size, 360-degree image capture using eight high-resolution captures.
Using 3D glasses, engineers can view and manipulate the images using a control wand, allowing them to visualise and optimise exterior and interior designs and the seating experience and visibility.
VR can drastically reduce costs car companies incur in the prototyping stage, too, by creating interactive visualisations of the final product, with no need for anything to be physically constructed – sometimes several times over as manufacturers implement iterative engineering solutions to solve problems.
Virtual engineering and prototyping has allowed the car industry and leading manufacturers to make huge leaps meaning cars can be made more quickly, more efficiently and at lower cost.
With rapid changes in vehicle structures and their growing intricacy, mechanics and engineers often need assistance in their work.
BMW has been using virtual training sessions for Academy staff with engine assembly sessions. Visualisations guide them through a step-by-step process offering them specific information about each component.
This new style of workflow is allowing for up to three people to be trained in a single session. How's that for efficiency?
It's not just BMW using tech like this. In the US, Porsche engineers are using smart glasses that allow the engineers to connect remotely, as well as providing real time video.
This allows the engineer to take screenshots and send technical notes onto the projection surface of the glasses all at the same time as the engineer is working on the vehicle.
The tech has also been valuable to Jaguar during the production development process. The company is investing heavily in state-of-the-art virtual engineering tools to enable them to deliver vehicles at the highest specification possible, while increasing productivity and digesting complex data quicker than it would have been previously possible.
Since the very first digital dashboard was introduced in the Aston Martin Lagonda 36 years ago, head-up displays (HUDs) have been enhancing the in-car experience.
Most include valuable information from performance to efficiency to traffic and safety warnings on the go. So, where next?
In 2018, manufacturers such as Porsche and Hyundai announced investment into Swiss startup WayRay. The company develops holographic AR displays for cars that go beyond any HUD you'd find in a current production vehicle. Its innovative solution creates a real AR experience without the need for any special equipment like glasses – opening the tech up to on-track use.
In a racing environment, AR could have big performance implications. Live, optimal racing lines, ideal braking points, as well as creating ghost cars for drivers to beat – something usually reserved for racing games.
While we wait for this technology to become part of our everyday commute, Mercedes-Benz hs already been offering their customers a bite-sized version of their AR navigation system.
MBUX connects the virtual and real world using the front facing camera, normally used for parking manoeuvres, to run a continuous live feed during your journey.
The footage is then combined with navigation instructions and shown on your dash display. In addition, practical information such as traffic lights, house numbers, street names, or points of interest are incorporated into the recording. While it's still in its infancy, it's clearly going to become invaluable for drivers in years to come.
As manufacturers fight to produce the best in-car tech, AR and VR are changing our experience of the world and it will continue to have a huge impact on cars and automakers worldwide, as well as at the race circuit.