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New VWs may virtually design themselves

Augmented and virtual reality allow designers to make changes faster

Published: March 22, 2017, 1:30 AM
Updated: March 27, 2017, 3:34 AM

Volkswagen Virtual Design

For Volkswagen, designing the next wave of vehicles is virtually as easy as imagining the changes.

The company is experimenting with augmented reality, in its Wolfsburg Virtual Engineering Lab, to make design changes to models using voice commands and gestures, and have the changes take effect nearly instantaneously.

HoloLens mixed-reality goggles allow designers such as Frank Ostermann to view a projection of content from a Microsoft developed computer as if it were a 3D model in the same studio. By pointing at the bodywork, the designer can swap colours, change the wheel designs, and even modify body panels or change trim level visual cues.

Ostermann is a computer engineer who heads the Virtual Engineering Lab in Wolfsburg (one of six, which are also set up in Barcelona, Berlin, Munich and San Francisco) where specialists work with research institutions and technology partners to combine big data, Industry 4.0, connectivity, mobility services and virtual reality.

“We have been using augmented reality and virtual reality for some time, mainly to obtain a 3-dimensional view. We are now taking a major step forward at the Virtual Engineering Lab,” says Ostermann. “We are transforming this technology into a tool for Technical Development. This will allow Volkswagen engineers to work on a virtual vehicle, to change its equipment as they wish and even to design new components virtually. They will be able to see the results of their work immediately.”

Augmented and virtual reality don’t just help save time, though, they also help lower development costs because each step in the process is faster and more efficient, and changes aren’t a costly series of removals, additions and revamps. That’s where the HoloLens comes in, although it’s still in the trial phase.

The HoloLens projects each design or equipment change directly onto a physical model, so the design team can wheel in a production car and make changes as desired without unbolting and bolting parts. It also allows project teams to work at the same time from different locations, so teams from, say, Wolfsburg, Chattanooga and Shanghai can work on developing a model to suit their respective markets, all on the current design model.

If it works out as anticipated, it could make the current time-consuming work on a clay model a thing of the past. Volkswagen envisions a future where designers can call up the entire brand model portfolio and visualize all conceivable variants: the developers would be able to transform a sedan virtually into a wagon, convertible, coupe or even an SUV.

“We are cooperating very closely with our colleagues from Technical Development and are already close to the first new vehicle concepts and design studies,” says Ostermann. “We contribute our know-how for technical product development and offer tailor-made solutions for all Group brands in the fields of virtual engineering and systems engineering.

“The teams can directly follow and compare minimal changes to the model and then make a decision. This means that they can reach their goal faster,” he concludes. “Just a few years ago, this was all science fiction. Now it is clear that this is how we will be developing our next models.”