Volkswagen develops virtual tech to speed up car design

VW Virtual Engineering Lab develops software for virtual design with a vision to use it as a tool for technical development.

The Volkswagen Virtual Engineering Lab in Wolfsburg houses the future of the company’s car design process. Full of screens with software code running on them, the lab also contains a 1:4 scale model of the Golf. Frank Ostermann, a graduate engineer in computer engineering, inspects the model and uses voice commands and gestures to change its wheels, replace the rear lights and modify the wing mirrors, all in a matter of seconds. Augmented reality makes it possible. The software required was developed in the Virtual Engineering Lab and the team's results could revolutionise the work of engineers and designers.

Ostermann wears the ‘HoloLens’ mixed-reality goggles; the mobile computer developed by Microsoft projects virtual content onto a physical object through gesture control and voice commands. Ostermann only needs to point his finger and the HoloLens projects a different paint colour onto the Golf, installs different wheels and modifies the fenders. Initially, the Golf is an R-Line model but it then becomes an entirely new version. Perhaps this model will appear at the dealership in six months' time.

Ostermann heads the Virtual Engineering Lab, at Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, which is one of six labs now operated by Volkswagen Group IT in Wolfsburg, Berlin, Munich and San Francisco. The latest lab is currently starting operations in Barcelona. At these labs, specialists from Volkswagen are working on the digital future together with research institutions and technology partnerships. New solutions in the fields of big data, Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things, connectivity, mobility services and virtual reality are being created in close cooperation.

“At Volkswagen, we have been using augmented reality and virtual reality for some time, mainly to obtain a three-dimensional view,” says Ostermann. “We are now taking a major step forward at the Virtual Engineering Lab. We are transforming this technology into a tool for Technical Development. This will allow Volkswagen engineers to work on a virtual vehicle, to change its equipment as they wish and even to design new components virtually. They will be able to see the results of their work immediately.”

“We are cooperating very closely with our colleagues from Technical Development and are already close to the first new vehicle concepts and design studies,” Ostermann reports. “We contribute our know-how for technical product development and offer tailor-made solutions for all Group brands in the fields of virtual engineering and systems engineering.”

Slashing time and development costs

The HoloLens software uses augmented and virtual reality to help save time and development costs by making each step in the design process faster and more efficient.

HoloLens not only projects each design or equipment change directly onto the physical model. It also allows several project teams to work at the same time but at different places, for example teams from Wolfsburg, Chattanooga and Shanghai. All concerned always have the current design model in view and time-consuming reworking, for example on a clay model, may become a thing of the past. "The teams can directly follow and compare minimal changes to the model and then make a decision. This means that they can reach their goal faster," explains Ostermann.

Currently, the HoloLens software is still in the trial phase. In future, it will allow users to call up the entire Volkswagen brand model portfolio and to present different body versions of a model in all conceivable variants: the developers will then be able to transform a saloon virtually into an SUV, an estate car, a convertible or a coupe.

"Just a few years ago, this was all science fiction," says Ostermann. "Now it is clear that this is how we will be developing our next models."

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Issue: 211 | Autocar India: March 2017

Check out our exclusive drive of the new BMW 5-series in India, and in a Porsche special, the 718 Boxster. There's also a shootout between the new Hyundai Grand i10, Maruti Ignis and the Mahindra...
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