In October 2020, GMC’s electric Hummer became the first vehicle to build its in-car software using the Unreal Engine game development platform. The same system that introduced the world to Fortnite, a cultural phenomenon boasting over 350 million players, now powers the Hummer EV’s HMI (Human Machine Interface).
What otherwise brings virtual adventures to the screen is also a critical tool utilized by the automotive industry to visualize virtual components. The way we interact with a car is different from what it was a few years ago. Assembled cars carry various onboard computers, relying on touchscreen and digital interfaces to power their infotainment centers. Buttons and screens dominate the dashboard, providing a whole new set of features to enhance the driving experience.
Breaking the traditional HMI workflows
Continuously increasing demands for safer driving and a personalised in-vehicle digital system are paving the way for a whole new cockpit experience. Human-machine interfaces (HMI) are one of the next great frontiers for the automotive industry, promising new levels of flexibility, interactivity, and visual fidelity to automotive solutions.
In traditional HMI workflows, UI/UX designers rarely get to see their designs in action. They produce what is called “hero screens” or reference images that outlines how the UI will look. It is up to engineers to implement the design and the functionality into the vehicle. The process leads to more iterations, siloed workspace, and under-utilisation of resources.
The functionality required to create HMI systems has been available in Unreal Engine for quite some time. With the HMI Initiative, Unreal Engine aims to break free from this workflow by providing design-driven development. Essentially, it allows designers, artists, and engineers to work directly on projects rather than producing only reference images for engineers to implement. Its feature includes support for version control, blueprinting visual scripting, and direct access to a C++ codebase for more functionality to be exposed.
While the same has been utilised by GMC in their Hummer EV, the possibilities are endless for the automotive industry.
Transforming every touchpoint
The desire for high-quality visuals is one of the many reasons why many automotive companies are driven to harness the potential of game engines. The right render can make cars truly beautiful. Game engines not only produce high-quality real-time images but also provide flexibility and a collaborative ecosystem to do so much more.
BMW tapped into the rendering capabilities of Unreal Engine to create virtual surfaces and 3D-printed prototype vehicle pieces that aided designers and engineers to visualize how various materials will look on the final shipping vehicle. The technology helped the company to avoid wasteful expenditure since the process does not involve multiple iterations on physical components. Game engines are structured to allow designers to visualize the end product in real-time while providing new freedoms to search for the most effective way to communicate the information.
Several names in the industry have made game engines a part of their development cycle for the ease with which software and technology can be connected on the platform. Volkswagen Sweden, for instance, used Unreal Engine to create an immersive VR configurator, for the Volkswagen Areton. It allowed customers to interact with a photo-realistic car in real-time with the help of a VR headset. Similarly, Daimler also made use of Unreal Engine to create Daimler Protics, a multi-user online environment where engineers can upload CAD data to get 3D visualizations.
From the introduction of the assembly line to computer chips for monitoring most basic functions, the automotive industry has always experienced evolution. Internet of Things (IoT), connected vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and V2X communication will underpin the software-defined, connected cars of the future, a market tipped to be worth £51billion by 2030(1). Games engines will take these configurations to the next level.
Sources: (1) https://www.eurekamagazine.co.uk/design-engineering-features/technology/gaming-drives-automotive-design/143303/
Author: Dean Reihard, Technical Account Manager, Epic Games
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