Looking to the future, Volkswagen has begun testing mixed reality glasses for fast-changes to car designs…

IT USED TO BE A SCALPEL AND a clay model, but it looks like the future of car design is likely to rest in a computer and a pair of mixed reality goggles. Volkswagen has teased that its designers are already fiddling around with this technology, because of the speed with which changes can be affected.

In a statement, Volkswagen said: “Bright sunlight floods the Volkswagen Virtual Engineering Lab in Wolfsburg. Two dozen screens flicker, some of them showing graphics and others hundreds of lines of program code.

“In the center of the room, there is a 1:4 scale model of a Golf. Frank Ostermann inspects the model, and then he changes its wheels, replaces the rear lights and modifies the wing mirrors. Ostermann uses voice commands and gestures to change the design. It is all completed in a matter of seconds. Augmented reality makes it possible. The software required was developed in the Virtual Engineering Lab and the team’s results could revolutionize the work of engineers and designers.”

Frank Osterman is boss at one of Volkswagen’s virtual engineering lab, there are currently six such labs at VW sites, with a seventh being built in Barcelona.

Allowing Osterman to manipulate the VW Golf he’s virtually looking at, are a pair of HoloLens mixed-reality goggles which are connected to a mobile computer developed by Microsoft (cue jokes about it needing to update its software every afternoon). The computer projects the virtual content “onto a physical object through gesture control and voice commands. Ostermann only needs to point his finger and the HoloLens projects a different paint color onto the Golf, installs different wheels and modifies the fenders. Initially, the Golf is an R-Line model but it then becomes an entirely new version”.

“At Volkswagen, we have been using augmented reality and virtual reality for some time, mainly to obtain a three-dimensional view,” says Ostermann.

“We are now taking a major step forward at the Virtual Engineering Lab. 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.”

“We are cooperating very closely with our colleagues from Technical Development and are already close to the first new vehicle concepts and design studies,” Ostermann reports.

“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 simple reason for pushing into this technology is because it can save time and money. And car makers aren’t alone, as training hospitals and universities have been using augmented reality to train doctors and medical professionals for years.

Because the HoloLens is a virtual product, VW says it allows all of its digital engineering teams to collaborate in real-time.

“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,” Ostermann explains.

“Just a few years ago, this was all science fiction,” says Ostermann. “Now it is clear that this is how we will be developing our next models.”

Question: Computers seem to be fast-replacing traditional crafts, like car design which used to have a very physical element involving a designer physically shaping a piece of clay. Should automotive designers still work in clay to retain an intimate connection with their product, or is virtual reality development the future?


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