Volvo Cars: A Unity case study
A pioneer in safety technology, Volvo Cars is also blazing trails in bringing interactive, immersive virtual experiences to product development processes in the automotive industry. Volvo Cars’s drive to innovate is evident in its incorporation of real-time technology across every stage of its vehicle production lifecycle.
To help achieve these goals, Volvo Cars sought a technology partner that could help bring to life virtual environments as part of an end-to-end pipeline, allowing engineers, designers, stakeholders, and consumers to visualize concepts and results in real-time.
Reimagine traditional processes for designing, engineering, manufacturing and selling vehicles by developing an integrated, cross-department toolchain powered by Unity
CAD software: CATIA, NX, Creo, VRED, Alias
AR and VR: iPad (ARkit), Varjo, Microsoft HoloLens, HTC VIVE
40 total Unity users; 25 active users across Volvo Cars (design, R&D, and marketing); core team of 10 focusing on the pipeline and feature integration
Unifying the product lifecycle
Volvo Cars needed a better way to unify the many teams responsible for taking its vehicles from vision to reality. Since these teams are laser-focused on specific modules of the vehicles and use different tools, they had no common language of communication. The parties only came together late in the lifecycle, when potential problems are more cumbersome to address.
Unity’s real-time 3D platform has become the glue in Volvo Cars’s toolchain, connecting all its modules and project stages – from vehicle inception to off the lot. In a short span of time, Volvo Cars has achieved one of the most advanced, wide-reaching deployments of Unity.
- Improved design-engineering communication and collaboration
- Faster design iteration and behavior validation
- Reduced reliance on physical prototype vehicles
- More immersive and effective buying experiences
Building an end-to-end toolchain for virtual experiences
Volvo Cars is using virtual experiences at every stage: in design and R&D as well as in consumer-facing applications. Timmy Ghiurau, Innovation Leader, Virtual Experiences at Volvo Cars, explains, “We use Unity as a glue between our projects and modules. It’s not designed to replace existing tools, but enhance them by delivering a complete virtual car experience.”
With a more cohesive toolchain, Volvo Cars was able to streamline its pipeline, creating a more accessible, collaborative, and productive workflow.
By experiencing a vehicle in an immersive environment, designers and engineers can collaborate to accelerate the iterative process and reduce costs. They can conduct research, design, modeling, prototyping, and user testing to validate ideas virtually in ways that would be too costly, impractical, or impossible to recreate in the real world.
Like many automotive OEMs, Volvo Cars relied on expensive prototypes to communicate designs as they progressed. With Unity, it only needs to create these physical models at certain milestones. “In between we use virtual experiences to iterate and do research and user testing to see what we want to push into production,” says Ghiurau.
A “product simulator” made in Unity acts as back-end support and connects the system modules, such as vehicle dynamics, user interface, product functionality, and digital interaction. Unity is then used for rendering, animation, dynamic content, and scene creation at various stages of production.
By using Unity, it’s easy to repurpose assets and share them with different departments. For instance, a car model used in a parking simulation could be used in different consumer-facing virtual reality (VR) demos, which could contribute to user experience (UX) research and testing. The Unity Asset Store is an important resource for props and environments vital to creating a realistic context for the virtual vehicle.
Unity became a way for Volvo Cars’s engineers and designers to speak the same language, where everyone could see the same, complete virtual vehicle. “We can go to management and instead of showing them 50 slides on how a door handle works, you just ask them to try it out,” Ghiurau says.
Creating the optimal in-vehicle user experience
By using a virtual environment, Volvo Cars's designers and engineers can better understand how people interact within the cabin environment.
With real-time 3D, it’s possible to test different in-car displays in various positions based on driver reactions. UX researchers can easily adjust the nature and placement of displays in real-time to optimize information distribution.
The instant feedback on interiors, ergonomics (e.g., reach of the steering wheel or buttons), and interactions allows for more iterations to modify the design and behavior, ultimately ensuring a better experience for drivers and passengers.
Train in a safe environment
With XR environments made in Unity, Volvo Cars can offer training at key stages of the vehicle lifecycle, from production to maintenance. The clarity afforded by photorealistic graphics quality and real-time rendering allows professionals to train in a VR environment that perfectly mimics the real world.
Further, owners and operators can also benefit from immersive tools that guide them in using various features and performing basic maintenance.
Engage car buyers with immersive experiences
Volvo Cars is using immersive 3D experiences as a sales and marketing tool to offer consumers the ultimate research aid and customization mechanism. With its custom-built VR car configurator, the showroom has limitless inventory. Volvo Cars’s design and marketing teams also benefit from the data provided by these virtual interactions – transformed into valuable insight into buyer behavior and product feedback.
Pushing the limits of reality
Underscoring its commitment to automotive innovation, Volvo Cars is the world’s first car company to drive with a mixed reality headset on a real road.
Volvo Cars’s drive for virtual experiences demanded a quality headset and a software platform capable of rendering photorealistic content that displays without any transparency – where it is impossible to distinguish between what is real and what is virtual.
So Volvo Cars partnered with Unity and Varjo to use Varjo’s groundbreaking XR headsets. With this technology, engineers can seamlessly add virtual objects that seem real to both the driver and the car’s sensors. This is most obviously beneficial in testing safety mechanisms, but it’s also an immense source of data on driver behavior. They can also test various elements of future cars – such as heads-up displays, new materials, and UI for infotainment systems – inside a real car while driving on a real test track.
Unity will continue to be a key component of fitting together Volvo Cars’s forward-looking services and technologies to create mobility experiences that are personal, safe, and sustainable.
“Our use cases of Unity are increasing almost every week. From car design all the way to consumer-facing experiences, we’re using Unity to bridge departments and enable better collaboration.”
“Unity is a great medium to tell a story. Virtual car experiences create an immense emotional impact for people that propels them to take the next step, whether it’s to go to a dealership and check out the car in person or to uplevel their options because the look and feel are already real to them.”