Volvo Cars engineers call it “the ultimate driving simulator”, but it is not just an excuse for them to indulge their inner gamer. Instead, the Swedish company’s ground-breaking mixed-reality simulator is used to make new strides in safety and autonomous driving technology.
A setup with a moving driver’s seat, a steering wheel with haptic feedback and a crystal-clear virtual-reality headset would make any serious gamer jealous, but Volvo Cars’ simulator takes this concept to the next level, making it hard to tell reality from simulation. Which is exactly the point.
Using cutting-edge technology from the leading real-time 3D development platform Unity and Finnish virtual and mixed-reality experts Varjo, the simulator involves driving a real car on real roads. It combines life-like, high-definition 3D graphics, an augmented-reality headset and a full-body Teslasuit that provides haptic feedback from a virtual world while also monitoring bodily reactions.
This combination of software and hardware allows Volvo Cars engineers to endlessly simulate traffic scenarios on a real test track road while using a real car, all in total safety. Engineers can gain important insights on the interaction between people and the car for development of new safety, driver-assistance and autonomous driving features.
Testers can be exposed to imagined active safety and driver-assistance features, upcoming autonomous drive user interfaces, future car models and many other scenarios. It can be used on real test track roads or in the test lab, and every scenario is fully customisable. The possibilities are literally endless.
Volvo Cars’ “ultimate simulator” was demonstrated yesterday in an event livestreamed from Volvo’s Open Innovation Arena and hosted by a team of its innovation experts. You can watch the event on demand here.
Last year, together with Varjo, Volvo Cars became the first car maker to make it possible to drive a real car while wearing a mixed-reality headset. Now, that collaboration has been expanded to include Unity and full-body haptic suit maker Teslasuit.
According to Casper Wickman, Senior Leader of User Experience at Volvo’s Open Innovation Arena, and one of the hosts of the livestream, this enables Volvo Cars to study authentic human reactions in a safe environment and at a fraction of the cost of a real test.
“Working together with great companies such as Varjo, Unity and Teslasuit has allowed us to test so many scenarios that look and feel totally real, without having to physically build anything,” said Casper Wickman. “It lets us test drive actual cars in traffic scenarios that look and feel real but can be adjusted at the touch of a button.”
When developing safety systems for cars, such as collision-avoiding technologies, testing is crucial. But testing these systems in reality can be dangerous, time-consuming and expensive. Virtual and mixed-reality simulations, however, allow for perfectly safe testing in authentic environments, without having to build any physical prototypes or set up complex scenarios.
“By using this cutting-edge technology, we are exploring and leading the development for creating safe cars in the future. It’s great to play a part in that,” said Casper Wickman.
Watch the full livestream recording here and download the summary video of the event here.
Varjo Mixed-Reality Headset
Last year, Volvo Cars, together with Varjo, became the first car maker to make it possible to drive a real car while wearing a mixed-reality headset. The Varjo XR-1 Developer Edition headset uses video cameras to enable mixed reality and provides mixed or virtual reality at a high-definition resolution. With the Varjo XR-1 headset, the objects and environments created in Unity can be seamlessly integrated into the real world.
Through the application of forces, vibrations or motions, haptic technology makes it possible to recreate the experience of touch when interacting with the virtual world. By wearing Teslasuit’s advanced full-body haptic suit, Volvo’s simulation testers can physically feel small reproductions of the forces one would experience in a crash, while experiencing no actual risk. The suit also enables Volvo engineers to test these reactions by studying how muscles, stress levels and heart rate react under stress, and apply this learning in creating the next generation of safety systems aimed at avoiding and mitigating risky situations.
Unity Simulation Engines
The simulation scenarios are created using the latest real-time 3D software from Unity, the company behind one of the world’s most popular development platforms for video game development. Using Unity, Volvo experts can create virtual environments and objects to use in simulations or put a fully accurate 3D model of any Volvo car design into any virtual environment, assessing the design in different lights, locations and weather.
Volvo Car Group in 2019
For the 2019 financial year, Volvo Car Group recorded an operating profit of 14.3 BSEK (14.2 BSEK in 2018). Revenue over the period amounted to 274.1 BSEK (252.7 BSEK). For the full year 2019, global sales reached a record 705,452 (642,253) cars, an increase of 9.8 per cent versus 2018. The results underline the comprehensive transformation of Volvo Cars’ finances and operations in recent years, positioning the company for its next growth phase.
About Volvo Car Group
Volvo Cars was founded in 1927. Today, it is one of the most well-known and respected car brands in the world, with sales of 705,452 cars in 2019 in about 100 countries. Volvo Cars has been under the ownership of the Zhejiang Geely Holding since 2010.
In 2019, Volvo Cars employed on average approximately 41,500 (41,500) full-time employees. Volvo Cars’ head office, product development, marketing and administration functions are mainly located in Gothenburg, Sweden. Volvo Cars’ head office for APAC is located in Shanghai. The company’s main car production plants are located in Gothenburg (Sweden), Ghent (Belgium), South Carolina (US), Chengdu and Daqing (China), while engines are manufactured in Skövde (Sweden) and Zhangjiakou (China), and body components in Olofström (Sweden).
Under its new company purpose, Volvo Cars aims to provide customers with the Freedom to Move in a personal, sustainable and safe way. This purpose is reflected in a number of business ambitions: for example, by the middle of this decade it aims for half of its global sales to be fully electric cars and to establish five million direct consumer relationships. Volvo Cars is also committed to an ongoing reduction of its carbon footprint, with the ambition to be a climate-neutral company by 2040.