BMW taps Unreal Engine for a mixed reality vehicle development process

BMW is combining the best of real and virtual worlds to make the process of creating new car designs as quick and painless as possible. The carmaker has tapped Unreal Engine’s rendering capabilities to generate virtual surfaces and objects overtop 3D-printed prototype vehicle pieces, letting designers and engineers preview how various materials or surfaces will look on a final shipping vehicle without having to actually make the thing first.

Elements including interior surface coverings, the size of windows, and different functions of the car can be modelled and demoed using VR, overlaid on top of the rapidly prototyped 3D-printed basic surfaces. This replaces previous practices which required either very expensive, built-to-purpose VR facilities, or actually prototyping entire parts with surface materials attached before you had any idea what they’d look like in practice. BMW points out that this can dramatically improve ergonomic design, letting experts see how cabin elements or other features might impede movement or visibility before they build a more expensive physical model.

Aside from costs and time saved by identifying issues prior to making prototypes, BMW also says its new facilities can help collaboration between designers and other staff across offices from around the world. It’s also less wasteful since it doesn’t require the development of multiple iterations of the same models to see how each change will affect the design.

Collaboration in enterprise settings has been one of the things VR proponents have pointed to as part of its great potential. It’s probably still early to call this aspect of both virtual and mixed reality a slam dunk, but the fact that successful automakers like BMW are apparently finding value in its use does bode well.