Virtual collaboration and development using the Unreal Engine
Epic Games’ Unreal Engine was coupled with virtual reality technology to create new and innovative development methods and tools that are now used in many design and work processes. This user experience development technology has already been presented to a wide general audience at CES 2019, where the BMW Vision iNEXT on display there at the time invited visitors to take a virtual test drive. Important elements of the new BMW iX’s design evolution were thus realized from the outset with the game engine, which also played a decisive role in the planning for the new BMW i4 plant. Many BMW dealerships and branches already offer virtual vehicle inspections and test drives. Unreal Engine was also used for the launch of the new BMW iX in the #NEXTGen digital broadcast (link). Using Unreal Engine’s virtual production tools, new technology that has primarily been used in Hollywood to date, the all-electric vehicle was presented in an innovative set-up called “The Cave”.
The possible uses of game technology and virtual reality applications are manifold in the automotive sector. The BMW Group, the first automotive company together with Epic Games to define and structure an enterprise licence for the industrial use of Unreal Engine, designed a self-developed mixed reality system. This is consistently used and expanded in vehicle development. The BMW iX is the first car that has been developed using the game engine we modified for our purposes. BMW’s use of Unreal Engine is invaluable, especially in the strategic innovation fields. You can very quickly create 3D renderings, for example, that take account of light effects and light reflections on different materials, among other things. But most importantly, it allows the functional and user experience to be brought to life and implemented in real time at a very early development stage. These advantages led to the early development of the technology into a global platform.
With its new Driving Simulation Centre in the Research and Innovation Centre, the BMW Group is setting standards (Link). Equipped with 14 simulators and usability laboratories over 11,400 m², it is the most modern and versatile simulation centre in the automotive industry. The company is thus providing its vehicle development and research teams with every opportunity to realistically test and simulate the product requirements of the future. Besides high-tech motion systems that respond immediately to every driving input, a visualisation of the virtual world that is as true-to-life as possible is essential for a realistic driving experience. Here, too, the BMW Group is relying on Unreal Engine from Epic Games.
Just how flexible and diverse the possible applications of a game engine like this can be is demonstrated by its use in production planning for the new plant where the BMW i4 will be manufactured in future. With the aid of real-time 3D renderings, production steps and space requirements for items such as tools or spare parts can be precisely planned and designed. This virtual reality technology was already used in 2018 to configure the individual workstations for the upcoming production of the new BMW 3 Series. This meant that for the first time, it was possible to recreate a complete production facility in virtual reality, test new work and manufacturing processes in a realistic 3D environment and adapt them to actual requirements.
Car buyers also benefit from the use of game technology and virtual reality. The Emotion Virtual Experience (EVE) created by BMW, which is now available via 6,400 stations at more than 2400 BMW dealerships and branches worldwide, allows vehicles to be experienced first-hand in virtual reality. EVE provides customers with a photorealistic 3D representation of any BMW or MINI in every variant available across global markets, which can then be viewed on any display or with VR glasses down to the last detail. They can move around the vehicle and select colours and extra fittings in real time – not to mention open doors or the boot, look under the bonnet, and slide back the convertible roof. It is also possible to sit in the virtual vehicle and take a test drive, of course. Even lighting conditions and panorama sets can be simulated so that customers can view their future vehicle in the city, in the mountains, or on a racetrack. EVE, which bases its visualization on Unreal Engine from Epic Games, can be used to display more than 50 vehicle variants in total, including every trim level.