Image courtesy of Feynsinn, a trademark of EDAG

A virtual showroom for the smart city vehicle of the future

Stefan Wenz
Every once in a while, a long-established way of doing something is upended by a transformational innovation. We’re currently living through one of those sea changes right now with the evolution of cars. 

While models have changed and improvements have been made, for many years the fundamentals of mass-produced cars remained more or less the same. Two of the givens were that they all required a driver and they all ran on fossil fuels. 

Now, electric cars and autonomous vehicles are changing all that—which means next-generation vehicles are set to be big business. Some estimates project that 50% of all cars sold worldwide will be fully electric by 2040, and others forecast 63% growth in self-driving cars by 2027.

Forward-thinking companies are embracing the once-in-a-generation opportunity provided by this paradigm shift, developing innovative designs that reimagine what a car can (and should) be.

EDAG is one of these intrepid pioneers. A world-leading independent engineering service provider for the international mobility industry, its CityBot autonomous vehicle is an intelligent alternative to individual transport that makes clever use of autonomous driving for various applications in urban mobility.

The concept is designed for the smart city of the future—one where traffic jams, car parks, smog, and traffic noise are a thing of the past. 

A multifunctional, fully autonomous robot vehicle with swarm intelligence, CityBot is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, making it completely emission-free. It’s designed to be modular—meaning the vehicle can be customized to transport passengers, carry cargo, clean streets, dispose of waste, or maintain parks.
Image courtesy of Feynsinn, a trademark of EDAG
Imagine fleets of quiet, clean vehicles transporting commuters to work, sweeping the roads, and delivering packages. In an age of rapidly advancing climate change, solutions like this will become increasingly important. Driving awareness of them will be crucial. 
For EDAG, this means finding a way to reach a wider audience. Being restricted to one physical location to showcase CityBot limits the amount of people who can see it. When the pandemic hit and travel was curbed further still, this dilemma took on a new significance.

The solution lay in the development of a virtual showroom, powered by Unreal Engine, in which EDAG customers could experience CityBot in VR from anywhere in the world—and which could also be used by the company to create marketing videos with animations.

A real-time virtual showroom

Feynsinn is an EDAG brand that services the EDAG Group with software and IT solutions. It works on everything from product development to virtual product presentation, providing know-how, ideas, and tools.

The visualization team there was behind the development of a virtual showroom for CityBot that contains fifteen fully interactive exhibits. This virtual environment enables EDAG to present the functionality and technological advantages of CityBot in a simple and intuitive way to customers around the globe. 
Image courtesy of Feynsinn, a trademark of EDAG
Information that would ordinarily be provided by the sales representative during an on-site presentation is explained in detail using animations and effects in the experience. The team reused the model data and environment built for the virtual showroom to create the marketing video for CityBot, saving time and money. 

Timo Kraus is a project manager for visualization at Feynsinn who worked on the project. He explains that the ability to create marketing collateral and sales meetings in virtual environments has been hugely beneficial to EDAG—especially at a time when physical meetings are limited. “We now have the opportunity to open our showroom to a much wider audience,” he says. “EDAG has developed many innovative engineering solutions that could not have been shown to such a wide audience previously.”
Image courtesy of Feynsinn, a trademark of EDAG
The virtual showroom enables EDAG to showcase the potential of the CityBot in an innovative way—it’s no longer tied to a specific location and there’s no need for the costly transportation of exhibits. 

Recent events have brought the benefits of this into stark relief. “Especially now in times of COVID-19, we’re still able to provide an experience that goes beyond online meetings and Zoom calls,” says Kraus. “In addition, we can use the showroom environment to discuss technical innovation in a virtual meeting, bringing an expert from Germany together with a customer in Mexico, for example.”

Many sales assets from one virtual environment

The team at Feynsinn has been working with Unreal Engine since 2012, initially researching how to create car configurators with the technology. 

They were able to make huge efficiencies on the digital showroom project by leveraging the engine, creating both an interactive experience and a range of compelling marketing animations from the same virtual environment. “Using the same database for two projects at the same time was very time-saving and cost-efficient,” says Kraus. “We had very little time for both projects and couldn’t have done it without that flexibility and synergy. In addition, the ability to create renderings in a very short time saved us a lot of hassle.”
Image courtesy of Feynsinn, a trademark of EDAG
Switching from a traditional animation workflow to real-time animation in Unreal Engine had a welcome side effect—more creative freedom. “We experienced much greater flexibility when it came to adjustments of shots and animations,” explains Kraus. “Changes could be made quickly and therefore very cost-efficiently. Having the performance of a real-time engine with the look of a marketing production and stunning render times was a real game changer for the animation project.”

The ability to offer a VR experience adds a whole new dynamic to sales conversations. It enables EDAG to be active in sales while providing entertainment value for customers. In VR, salespeople can explain technical functions that are normally unseen and make them visible.
Image courtesy of Feynsinn, a trademark of EDAG
This works to impressive effect in the CityBot virtual showroom. “VR provides us more possibilities to showcase innovations and create a different kind of experience for the customer,” says Kraus. “Immersion in VR can create excitement and better understanding, as well as greater interest in products.”

Saving time with Datasmith and Sequencer

The team put Unreal Engine’s core functionality to good use on the project, particularly Datasmith and Sequencer.

Datasmith is a collection of plugins and tools that dramatically reduces the time it takes to get different types of data into the engine. With their original data stored in a CATIA database, the team was able to use Datasmith to easily import it into Unreal Engine and work with it “without an extra data-preparation step in between and with flexibility in updating new data,” says Kraus. “We created Datasmith recipes to streamline the CAD import and reduce the manual data prepping to a minimum,” he adds. 

The team used Sequencer to create the animations on the project. Sequencer is Unreal Engine’s multi-track editor, used for creating and previewing cinematic sequences in real time. “Sequencer was very helpful, because we could organize the shots and animations in a way that gave us the flexibility to update and change things without leaving Unreal at any point,” explains Kraus.

A world of creative options

The CityBot project has been such a success that Feynsinn is using the experience to create a “Feynsinn pipeline” that will provide its artists with support and tools for working with Unreal Engine. 

This new way of working gives companies like EDAG much more than just super-fast rendering for marketing assets. Unreal Engine’s powerful creation functionality provides a kaleidoscope of creative possibilities, including compelling XR experiences, digital twins, virtual training, and more.

By embracing the potential virtual worlds have for interaction and communication, EDAG is now at the head of the pack for marketing autonomous vehicle innovations.

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