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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Audi tests Star Trek 'holodeck' for car design

Virtual reality system allows development engineers and production experts to gain a realistic overall impression of a new model and its proportions

Martin Rademacher (L), who is in charge of the VR holodeck project at Audi, checks out a prototype with other technicians. Courtesy Audi
Martin Rademacher (L), who is in charge of the VR holodeck project at Audi, checks out a prototype with other technicians. Courtesy Audi

Audi is testing a so-called virtual-reality "holodeck" for checking the design of new models via a walkable, virtual environment containing a three-dimensional image of a prototype car.

“With the VR holodeck, we obtain a realistic impression of the proportions of our future models. This enables us to make important decisions faster,” says Martin Rademacher, who is in charge of the VR holodeck project at Audi.

But to analyse individual aspects in detail, two-dimensional representations are still used: “They currently offer even better resolution and better quality than the walkable VR installation,” says Mr Rademacher.

The holodeck, however, allows development engineers and production experts to gain a realistic overall impression of a new model and its proportions at an early stage. In this way, Audi says it can reduce the number of complex physical test models, thus saving development time and costs.

Since 2003, Audi has been using virtually created 3D models in its development processes and the VW-owned company says it will increasingly apply VR technologies in the future.

The term “holodeck” comes from the science-fiction series Star Trek and refers to a special room that simulates virtual worlds. Essentially, that is what happens with the holodeck at Audi. In a room approximately 15 metres by 15 metres square, car prototypes can be displayed realistically and with the correct proportions.

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For this purpose, the experts from Audi’s planning have exactly recreated the room in which the design assessment takes place in the virtual world. They place the virtual car models there with the help of cutting-edge construction data. Those virtual models can then be intuitively experienced from inside as well as outside. An improvement on its previous VR environments, up to six people can now walk around the car at the same time.

Audi is testing the holodeck on what it describes as the interface between development and production. Experts from both departments together assess the overall visual impression and the surface of the new cars, and adjust the positions of individual lines and door gaps, for instance. This is the final stage before the tools required for the car go into production. Until now, photo-realistic 2D computer graphics have been used as well as hand-made full-sized physical models, which are very expensive and can take up to six weeks to produce.

In order to work in the holodeck, each user wears VR glasses and uses two hand controllers to move around the vehicle and interact with the other technicians. Each user also carries a backpack containing a powerful PC that weighs just three kilograms and which calculates data regarding the VR scene displayed. These are connected via Wi-Fi with a central workstation, which controls the data exchange. The model can be presented in various settings. In the next stage of development, the holodeck will enable staff members at other Audi locations to participate, which will considerably ease logistics regarding research and development of new cars. After production of a new model begins, the VR system will be used to assess quality control, Audi says.

The company developed the overall concept together with the Stuttgart media agency Lightshape. Before the end of this year, the car maker plans to introduce the VR holodeckon to the factory floor. Another objective of the current test phase is to probe the possibility of applications in other parts of the company: the production planners at Audi have already created virtual presentations of complete assembly stages in the system to visualise future processes. The department is also consulting with other brands of the Volkswagen Group.

Additional areas in which VR technologies are already applied at Audi include virtual training for employees in packing logistics and the Audi VR experience for customer advice, the firm says. The latter allows potential customers to virtually configure their desired car and to experience all optional equipment in a realistic way.

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