Audi is testing a so-called virtual-reality (VR) holodeck as a means to speed up the design and development of its new car models.
Inspired by sci-fi series Star Trek, the holodeck refers to a special room, 15 by 15 meters square, where virtual car prototypes can be displayed realistically, and in their full-scale proportions. By creating a walkable, virtual-environment with the car, development engineers, and production experts can gain an overall impression of a new model and its proportions at an early stage. Thereby reducing the need for complex physical models, and thus saving development time and costs.
Up to six people at a time can experience the three-dimensional model on the holodeck, from the inside as well as the outside. Each user has to wear VR glasses and use two hand controllers for interaction. Each user also carries a backpack containing a powerful PC which calculates the scene displayed. These mobile PCs are connected via Wi-Fi to a central workstation, which controls the data exchange.
Audi is currently testing the holodeck as a platform where development and production teams can interface. This way, experts from both departments can assess the overall visual impression and the surface of the new cars together, and adjust the positions of individual lines and gaps. Until now, photo-realistic 2D computer graphics have been used, as well as hand-made physical models, which are very expensive, and can take up to six weeks to produce.
The three-dimensional model can be presented in various settings, and in the future, the holodeck will enable staff members at other Audi locations to participate, which will considerably ease the organisation of work. After the start of vehicle production, the system will be used to maintain quality standards in production.
Audi developed the overall concept together with the Stuttgart media agency Lightshape, and plans to introduce the virtual reality holodeck as part of its working processes, by the end of 2018. The company is also working with other brands under the VW group on the possibility of applying VR holodeck technology in other areas of operations.
Currently, production planners at Audi have already created virtual presentations of complete assembly stages in the system to visualise future processes. Additional areas in which Audi believe virtual-reality technologies can be adopted is in training employees in packing logistics, and the Audi VR experience for customer service. The latter allows potential customers to virtually configure their desired car and to experience all optional equipment in a realistic way.