June 20, 2018

How real-time tech is changing the auto design landscape

By Simon Jones

Designing and manufacturing the next generation of stunning automobiles is a complex, lengthy process that can take many years to complete. Perfecting a new model design requires exhaustive prototyping, testing, review, and iteration across what has traditionally been an extensive timeline. We’re reaching an exciting crossroads, however, where modern innovation is ushering in big changes for those who build and sell automotive vehicles. 

More and more we’re seeing major car manufacturers turn to real-time technology to speed up, simplify, and enhance their automotive design experience. Efficiency is at the heart of the growing trend towards real-time design practices in the automotive world. Many brands are eschewing expensive and time-consuming traditional design approaches that still rely on iterating with resin models and costly physical design prototypes. Instead, they’re turning to new techniques that incorporate remote collaboration, 3D visualization, virtual reality, and on-the-fly customization powered by real-time engines.

Enhancing the design process through real-time

CGI and rendering has been a big part of design visualization in the automotive industry for many years now, but working with real-time engines instead of relying on static visualizations allows for faster iteration and a broader range of experience throughout the design process. It’s a more recent shift that’s unlocking a whole new world of potential for improving the craft of auto design.

Using Unreal Engine-powered technologies, innovators in the design space are helping to accelerate key creative and decision making workflows while opening up avenues for car manufacturers to explore entirely new design experiences. Nvidia’s Holodeck, for example, makes it possible for teams located anywhere in the world to come together and collaborate virtually in a photorealistic VR design space. This could revolutionize how designers in global companies work together, letting them create faster and more collaboratively.
BMW recently implemented a mixed reality lab into its automotive design pipeline, which pairs a VR headset with a physical vehicle interior model to create an immersive and tactile 360 real-time experience. The system gives designers a feel for the driver’s experience with a prototype model before the car is even built, allowing for more informed decision making throughout the design process. Following suit, we’re seeing other major automotive brands also utilizing real-time design in different ways to enhance and improve production cycles.
Beyond its ability to bring unique interactive experiences into the design process, real-time technology empowers greater efficiency across the board. Design feedback often happens very quickly once it's under review, but it can still take weeks for changes to be implemented using traditional methods. Designers now have the power to implement same-day changes, giving them greater creative flexibility and more opportunities to iterate without the added downtime. What once took weeks can now be done in days or less. This can also help teams identify design issues faster in the creative cycle, significantly reducing the potential for flaws that might carry forward into later stretches of production.

Synergy is equally important throughout the automotive world, and anywhere manufacturers can find ways to make good use of existing design product can save time and money in the long run. Assets created using real-time technology have the benefit of being easily recycled across other areas of the production and marketing pipeline, essentially letting designers do the heavy lifting once then propagating their work easily, whether it’s beauty renders and promotional materials or customer-side real-time visualizations.

Creating a new automotive customer experience

What’s exciting is how the potential of real time tech is rapidly expanding to other areas of the industry. It’s not just about forging a more efficient design process; giving designers greater flexibility to customize their work in real time makes it possible to shape each experience to suit the specific needs of clients, customers, and stakeholders. This is vital for internal review sessions and big presentations with key decision makers, but it’s also a game-changer in the automotive retail space, too.

The ability to create custom photorealistic configurations of different car models in real time to suit an individual customer’s tastes -- right down to package options and color choices -- is a powerful tool for helping to sell automobiles. Custom car configurators are becoming increasingly commonplace, and companies like Volkswagen are taking the tech even further. VW Sweden recently hired Animech, a visualization tools design firm, to create an immersive VR configurator experience that lets customers don a VR headset and interact with a fully customizable, photorealistic car in real-time without leaving their seat. It’s another great example of the innovation we’re seeing, as the industry warms up to the possibilities of real-time design.

We’re in an exciting age of experience, and it’s only going to grow as the automotive industry continues to evolve and embrace the potential of now.

Ready to accelerate your design workflows? Download Unreal Engine for free, and level-up your real-time visualizations today!