In another room, you wave your hand over a chrome sphere and the car’s paint job turns shiny silver immediately. It sounds like a car-mad child’s dream but today it is becoming virtual reality.
A real car could be sketched in 3D and be approved for road use in just two years, said Jon Horsley, programme director at the Digital Engineering & Test Centre (DETC) today. Speaking to Professional Engineering at VR World in London, he said several car manufacturers, including Jaguar Land Rover, are already testing VR technology during the design process.
Many manufacturers are interested in the technology because it could allow them to shorten the design process and work on many aspects of the car’s release, such as marketing, simultaneously. Just 10 years ago companies would not have tried because they “wouldn’t believe it was possible,” Horsley said. VR sketching will let companies skip previously essential design steps such as 2D sketches and physical modelling, he claimed, with customisable programs showing the detailed models with high performance graphics.
At the conference, DETC-linked VR start-ups such as Gravity Sketch demonstrated how their programs can be combined with headsets and handheld tools to allow designers to sketch and modify virtual cars, moving and changing panels on models which could theoretically be driven. “A little two or three-person start-up has shown it is possible,” Horsley said. “It is not perfect, and that is why we are going to be working with them to develop it to a level where it is good enough for engineering purposes. But that will, at a stroke, take 60 % out of the time of the design process.”
DETC, a government-funded body, is now trying to link companies specialising in immersive technologies with manufacturers. “There is an awful lot of interest out in the engineering world. So our next step is to get it to the point where it is deployable,” he said. The Government and DETC hope the cutting-edge technology will be used by British companies, encouraging economic growth in the automotive industry.
VR programmes could also become the “showroom of the future,” said DETC engineer Gorka Garcia. “You will be able to modify every single bit of the car you are buying… getting a real feel of what the car you are buying is going to look like.”
Brands such as Audi and Toyota are already using VR technology from company ZeroLight, which allows potential customers to virtually check and customise their new car before buying. “We can offer all the options that the car has, making sure it looks correct with all the colours and that kind of stuff,” said software engineer Ian Downing to PE. “We’re more focused on how it looks for the end user and making sure it is fully configurable.”