The ability to integrate game-quality human machine interfaces (HMI) is among the latest features released by Epic Games for Unreal Engine, the real-time visualization platform which the company says is now used by nine of the top 10 global vehicle manufacturers.
The latest upgrades will, it says, help automotive companies develop vehicles more quickly, with increased global collaboration and increased manufacturing efficiency while also facilitating next-generation in-car communications, marketing and cloud-based services.
“The pace at which the automotive industry has become deeply committed to Unreal Engine has surprised even us,” remarked Epic’s automotive lead, Doug Wolff. “It’s given us an opportunity to really understand how automotive development and retail is changing, leading to our largest ever major package of upgrades, led by automotive industry user needs.”
Unreal Engine now supports the latest-generation graphics chips that are increasingly specified for vehicle HMI, enabling fast development of in-car systems featuring high-quality 3D visuals. The first vehicle to use an HMI built using Unreal Engine will apparently be an all-new premium EV that introduces new ways of communicating with the driver, and is enabled for a new generation of cloud-based services and customization options.
The upgraded platform is also said to eliminate entire iterative stages of the development process, enabling designers and engineers to focus on their own specializations. Significantly, HMI designers can create a rich user interface in the same software that runs on the vehicle. The result is faster development, impressive graphics, simplified porting to cloud-based services, and fewer resources needed to bring this big technology step to market.
The company states that a German vehicle manufacturer described one of their Unreal Engine applications as “a computer game for engineers”, but delivering that capability required the resources of a team of specialist developers. The new Collaborative View Template simplifies that process, facilitating in-house development of virtual reality (VR) environments in which remote users can gather around a CAD model or a rendered styling model to discuss challenges and explore solutions. The environment is completely open, so will complement all specialist software.
Wolff said that it is Epic’s commitment to an open architecture that the most progressive vehicle manufacturers are exploiting as they move toward a common digital twin of the vehicle that develops from concepting through engineering to marketing and the production of creative materials. “This becomes their ‘single source of truth’, accessed through a common working environment,” he added.
Epic notes that one of the challenges of computer graphics has been the quality of human avatars. To address this, its new MetaHuman Creator tool provides customizable digital humans that look and move like real people, with every facial feature carefully synchronized with real expressions.
Wolff added that the range of applications is surprising: “From the adults and children populating the simulations used for active safety system development through to in-car assistants and the virtual sales specialists that will be a key component of moving automotive retail online, faithful representations add quality, credibility and correlation with the real world.”
Also upgraded is Unreal Engine’s ability to create photorealistic renders. Features include ray tracing in real time, for realistic representations of lighting and shadows, and a library of customizable materials.
“With most visualization solutions, the degree of realism and its fidelity with the designer’s vision is dependent on the skill of the system specialist and the time they invest,” explained Wolff. “With Unreal Engine, the engineer or designer can select materials, customize them to match their vision and then rotate the finished vehicle with the reflections being automatically matched to its orientation and even the quality of the light for different times of day, different regions or the correct vehicle interior illumination.”
Epic Games has published a free-to-download Automotive Field Guide that takes the reader through the latest automotive applications of virtual reality, mixed reality, augmented reality and real-time 3D graphics, showing how each is being used to transform how cars are designed, engineered and sold. The 108-page booklet includes case studies with manufacturers including BMW, Daimler, Geely, Scania and Toyota to show how they are using Unreal Engine.
The Automotive Field Guide can be downloaded here.