Unite India 2018 - the two-day annual developer conference by Unity Technologies concluded recently in Hyderabad with the participation of over a thousand delegates. The event was organized in association with the Government of Telangana’s India Joy that happens to be India’s biggest gaming and entertainment expo. The second edition of Unite India had a key focus on Industry 4.0, trends in automation with advancements in data exchange and a lot more. The automotive sector also witnessed a healthy interest and was a key area of discussion. A lot of sessions were hosted around the automotive space and Express Drives was invited to be a part of this event.
In order to understand the company’s plans in a better way and how its technologies and innovations will help in multiple areas in the automotive sector, we got a chance to interact with three key spokespersons from Unity Technologies - Hubert Larenaudie, President APAC & Global Head Distribution Platform, Andrew Bowell, Vice President Product and Tim McDonough, General Manager, Automotive.
Q1 - How the concept of virtual showrooms will help the customers in car buying and how Unity Technologies is contributing to it?
Ans - One of the things that we want to do is to build a more direct customer relationship so a virtual showroom, instead of a customer searching for a car online and then go to a dealer, is a great way to do that. The virtual showrooms that you see today are just for much better user experience and the question that may come to the mind is that why you need to look at a car that is not much bigger than a particular size while making such an expensive purchase. The reason being, a true virtual showroom will let you, in real time, take a walk around the car, zoom in zoom out, see the interiors, put on a VR headset or build a VR experience so that you can take a look at the car in front of your house or inside a parking place. So, it’s a better user experience, its direct customer relationship with the OEM for something which the people are looking at.
Customers can also give feedback for manufacturing and if OEMs have a better configurator, it is also a good way to mint money and hence, can drive revenues. There are also new OEMs that are building electric cars and these don’t want to necessarily build a dealer network. In that case, they can sell much more digitally compared to first buy a real estate. So we think its changing in multiple ways.
Q2 - Unity Technologies has tied up with multiple OEMs. So exactly with what OEMs, the company is working at the moment and does it have plans to add more manufacturers in near future?
Ans - So we are working with eight of the top ten. In this regard, we have made top progress since we made this business to make an exponential growth a year ago. And not all of them are public, you see the Volkswagen Group, Audi and BMW that are a part of the Volkswagen Group and there is Volvo, so there are eight of the top ten pretty much. And the same thing goes for the aerospace companies. They are using us as well.
Q3 - Coming to the vehicle servicing, how much time saving and beneficial you think real-time 3D and AR VR are to train the staff at the workshops? Because looking at the current infrastructure, the resources are very limited for this.
Ans - We think it is beneficial in two ways. One is the cost. The cost of building an application at Unity is relatively inexpensive and this is one of the prime benefits. We see OEMs doing two kinds of training. The first kind of training is training manufacturing workers and Volkswagen just recently put out their press release about it and we think they were very impressed with the results. They are getting new manufacturing line up in running. They are training 10,000 workers in 120 locations. So how do you do that? So they build a simulation of the factory in VR and they were able to train all those workers simultaneously with a very tight time window on all its locations and they were getting better training results.
In order to keep the training competitive, they said if you want to win, you have to make the best possible score, not just pass but you have to win. Such kind of scenarios lead to higher productivity and faster work on a factory line and that is worth the time and money. An inefficient factory, a factory not running at full capacity is painfully expensive.
The second kind of training we see happening along is the service. In the old school set up, the employee needs to look at the door, then go to the PDF, then look at the PDF and to and forth ten times. With AR assisted training, I will be looking through a Google glass like a Hololens or a magic Leap One, we put all of them and you see an overlay of instructions so the employee does not need to go back and forth and you can undo your tasks easily. Hence, you are saving time and you do not have to cognitively jump back and forth. So this is basically about being faster and delivering higher quality because you are really not making mistakes. So we think the benefits are very very strong.
Q4 - Speaking of driving schools in India, many of them are employing driving simulators nowadays. So is Unity Technologies working in that direction as well to train people in a much better way?
Ans - Interestingly, a Maruti Suzuki showroom in Gurgaon went ahead and told that they want a driving safety simulator. Basically, a driving simulator comes at a much later stage of the evolution. The first stage what we have seen is creating a full haptic base. A VR fire simulator as an example, one of the solutions based on Unity is Decon Labs in Melbourne and there is a professor who built a full HTC Vive firefighting simulator that gave an idea of how much of factory you can save. Coming back to the topic, the Maruti Suzuki guys reached out to Vive guys and the Vive guys eventually got us involved and asked if we could open doors with the University guys to show and they created a VR safety center and that was the output of that conversation.
So if you are saying a driving simulator, we don't have a used case in the Indian context. But in terms of firefighting, first, it came to the University and now it’s our product. The equation is the training value and one of the matrices is realism where it is proving that the more realistic the simulator, the more training values are raised and the outcome is better training in terms of a driving school, a fireman and more. If you have seen our videos, you must have noticed that realism is the key to us technically.
AR-VR for the driving simulators will mostly be done in the west first before it is coming to India. There is a medical device company just to mention, at IIT Madras and through it, they have demonstrated the haptic feedback based precision surgery. They had a session called Merkel labs on the industrial track.
Q5 - Here at the Unite India 2018, we are talking about the internet of things, connected technologies, the latest trends in technologies, Industry 4.0, is Unity Technologies also contributing to the logistics and supply chains in India to ensure that there is not any delay in the delivery of a product in any way, directly or indirectly?
Ans - Not in India but we have some case studies witnessing in Singapore but it is quite not in the public domain. This is abroad technology platform and we have to do machine learning with Unity that is used in, for example, simulation, visualization training for automated vehicles. So generally it is a platform to solve the problems in that space. We probably can’t mention that the customers were engaged with that or not publicly. In terms of Industry 4.0 what you just mentioned, we think Unity Technologies is currently in a very good position and where we want to be. On a broad level, the plan is being discussed in Malaysia and Singapore as those places are the hubs for logistics.
Q6 - Any plans to implement this in India as well in the coming years?
Ans - We think it depends on what customers are choosing to do. As a development platform, we will try to make it possible if customers can adopt it. Like there are production lines or power plants and for example, digital twins of a gas turbine and if someone wants the digital twin running in Unity to see what exactly is happening in that physical thing in the power plant. We do have customers doing that. So it is not a specific supply chain example but it is more of a power creation example.
Q7 - Now coming to vehicle design, how real-time 3D, AR-VR are changing the way how cars are being designed. What are the exact benefits?
Ans - 8 of the top 10 OEMs are using us and design is the first place where they all started. If you are an automotive designer, you are designing something as big as this table that’s 3D and in case of a 19 or 21-inch monitor, that’s 2D. It’s very hard so they started using our technology because if you want to visualize your design in real size and human scale, you will have to prepare a model that will take months and a lot of money or you can use this technology called Powerwalls. Most OEMs have 1,2 or 3 so you have to sign up the Powerwall like reserving a really good restaurant so you need to wait a month, get on the Powerwall and if your boss suggests for a particular change which will take another month to do it.
After that, the designers might say that the boss forgot what he told them to do and now he wants to undo it and bring it back. So the repetitive cycles in designs were super slow. What we now have is CAT program with the help of which one can translate the data, bring it to Unity and put on a headset. With this, we do it and in like 30 minutes, we come back and make a decision. And it is much more collaborative. So the biggest benefit is better product design and we can see OEMs building designs faster with lesser mechanical models. Volkswagen gave us these statistics publicly that we can share. They saved up to 5 million Euros per model design by making their designs faster and reducing the number of mechanical models. So basically, it is better quality and lower cost.
Q8 - Would you like to talk about any future developments from Unity Technologies in terms of the automotive sector?
Ans - It is really interesting how much is being done. We have already talked about design and we have touched upon training as well. Another one would be sales and marketing which is really powerful.
We think the way cars are bought and sold is going to change. With more people buying online, they will finally get to the decision before they head to the showrooms. There are two more. One is autonomous driving so we have a number of customers today who are rather than trying to drive their cars are doing it at Unity with the simulative city.
So that business is going really fast. In addition to being cheaper and faster, the solution is also safer. If you can train a car what to do if a child is taking a ball across the street in the simulator, you can’t really do it in real life. There are scenarios that are built with really good algorithms after training and simulation. We think we are helping make cars safer. In addition, many OEMs are trying to find out what all people are going to do in that car when they don’t have to drive so you are seeing a lot of prototypes and a lot of screens in those cars and that will open a revenue stream. They are offering entertainment services, commerce services via those screens in the car that will be beneficial for all of them. So that’s all being prototyped and developed at Unity.
Q9 - Any completely new area where the company would be venturing into when it comes to the automobile sector?
Ans - The last two are pretty new. Also, we think simulation is really just taking off because there is an ecosystem of roads and objects and Unity to generate scenarios and we can see that happening on a massive scale. For us, it is a big move. Simulation is going to happen on the cloud may be its a private cloud or hybrid private cloud and probably not in public cloud so there are going to be millions of scenarios running at Unity every single day. A lot of OEMs have been relying on us for R&D due to our efficiency and we have been focussing on the performance of the engines, beautiful graphics and it will really help us to create something really interesting and futuristic.
Q10 - Are there any challenges you see in the Indian market?
Ans - Well, India is moving really quickly but that only gives us more opportunities and challenges. The market is changing and even in one year, there has been a significant increase in the usage of AR-VR. The OEMs have been relying on us for better solution, graphics and at the same time, we also are growing with the market and it is a very positive surprise. Take an example of Tata and Mahindra, they are global and are currently among the top companies in the world. I don't exactly see any challenge except for the fact that the country is very big and this, in fact, is an opportunity. The number of submissions this year at Unite India compared to last year are quite high and the quality is also higher this time. With the coming of 5G, it is only going to be bigger and better and we a part of this big movement. And India is a very interesting market and is very big in terms of industries and servicing that is going faster as well.