BMW, being the forward thinking company they are, has adopted the HTC Vive virtual reality headset to aid the design process of their vehicles.
The adoption of virtual reality hardware makes it possible for BMW to save a great deal of time and effort during the early stages of development. The hardware provides the developers a means to implement and test new features without the need of costly specialised facilities. In addition to this, developers around the globe will be able to take part in the decision-making process from their own office without having to travel far. Only once the draft designs have been approved with the help of the 3D headsets will they actually be built for further testing.
This isn’t BMW’s first foray into virtual reality, the company has experimented with the technology since the 90’s. Using VR, new interior designs and features can quickly be modelled and verified via simulated driving experiences. The headset provides an all-round view of the surrounding area giving developers a good indication whether a display is poorly legible or awkward to reach depending on the viewing angle or seat position. To the development engineer, it feels as though they are sitting in a real car and in a real driving situation.
Visual sensations alone are still not enough; BMW have installed a reusable interior assembly which can output precise, stereoscopic audio playback, e.g. for the characteristic BMW engine sound, further intensifies the immersive experience. This, combined with the VR model enables to experience the vehicle in different environments.
While BMW are the first to implement virtual reality into the design process, rival automakers have turned to augmented reality to aid the sales component of their businesses. FCA group will implement Google’s project Tango to allow buyers to instantly visualise different configurations in the showroom. Meanwhile, Volvo is experimenting with the idea of using Microsoft HoloLens within dealerships.