April 24, 2018

BMW brings mixed reality to automotive design with Unreal Engine

By Keef Sloan

Real-time technology is sparking a big shift in the automotive production industry, as the world’s largest car manufacturers are exploring innovative ways to speed up and enhance the design process. Running on Unreal Engine, BMW and MINI’s mixed reality lab is carving out a bold path for automotive design that pairs custom hardware with virtual reality to bring a whole new level of real-time experience to the production cycle.
 

In the fast-paced automotive world, staying ahead of the design curve without sacrificing visual fidelity is becoming more and more critical for efficiently crafting the cars of tomorrow. At BMW and MINI, faster iteration through high resolution real-time technology and the ability to collaborate in VR across global design teams is driving fresh approaches to automotive design that are poised to change the industry in exciting ways.

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Pairing VR, Unreal Engine, and physical hardware in BMW’s mixed reality lab delivers a unique design experience that enhances productivity and iteration.

A new reality for automotive design

“At BMW and MINI we think about the future of cars, we want to look for the next generation of each model of each car,” says Christian Bauer, head of MINI interior design at the BMW Group. “The world is ticking faster and faster, so it's also important for us to speed up the process.”

One of the big challenges in automotive design is finding the middle ground between crafting what a new car model would look like in a perfect world and what’s actually possible from a manufacturing and production standpoint given the time allotted. “Mixed reality is the best of both worlds and together we can show all the options between them -- cost, time, technology, possibilities,” says Daniel Motus, head of cubing, virtual reality interior at BMW Group. “Until we start our tooling, we have the possibility to change everything and to fight for the best solution.”

Using a mixed reality design experience with Unreal Engine, VR, and specialized cutaway elements of physical car hardware, the team is able to experiment and make key decisions earlier in the process, leaving more time for iteration and refinement before locking in its designs.

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The ability to “test drive” a car design in a virtual mixed reality experience before it exists in the real world is a game-changer for automotive manufacturers.

“The new technology helps to display our surfaces earlier in a different stage, and to see what is happening in different surroundings,” says Bauer. “If you sit inside the car and see it virtually, you can see very fast how shadows are working on the surfaces, how the light is really exploring our surfaces, and that helps us to shorten the process and react earlier to what we see in the virtual world."

High speed meets high fidelity

Getting a much better feel for the customer experience earlier in the design phase of a new car empowers the designers and engineers at BMW Group to be very agile with their development cycle, shortening the time it takes to iterate while opening the door to a new level of discussion across the team. Using Unreal Engine, however, also helps speed up the process through real-time decision making without sacrificing the visual quality that’s imperative for the team’s success.

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Pairing high-fidelity visualizations with the power of real-time in Unreal Engine gives BMW the flexibility to iterate quickly without sacrificing quality.

“We come from a world with full GI renderings and high-end visualizations, and if you go back to a more immersive real-time technology you have to have the best optical look,” says Motus. “That is very important for us, and that is the main reason that we chose Unreal Engine, because of its outstanding look.”

Wondering what BMW’s mixed reality lab using Unreal Engine looks like in action? Check out the full video above to see for yourself, and don’t forget to try the free Unreal Studio beta today to speed up your design workflows in Unreal Engine.