Virtual reality is taking over car construction. Thanks to sophisticated VR tools, new cars can be designed – quickly, flexibly and efficiently. David Kuri programs software to do this. Part 1 of a series about IT jobs at Volkswagen.
David Kuri has submerged into another world. In this world, he is currently building a new car. Not a real one – a virtual one. In fact, he is not actually building it but designing it: the body nicely aerodynamic, the headlights circular, slim handles on the doors – Kuri draws all this with vigorous hand and arm movements in the air. Onlookers follow the development process on a computer screen. In his world, David Kuri can almost experience the actual car, spatially in 3D; he can stroll around in his world, examine the car from above and from the side – thanks to the VR glasses he is wearing.
Volkswagen at CEBIT 2018
Volkswagen is a digital company that drives modern information technology forward. In the run-up to CEBIT in Hanover, we are presenting a series of portraits of people in the Group with exciting IT jobs. At CEBIT (June 11-15), the Volkswagen Group will be in the Future Mobility Hall (Hall 25) offering a forum for interested parties and experts alike – with stimulating presentations and first-class exhibits as well as interesting panel discussions and talks. The range of topics and highlights is considerable and includes not only new forms of digital automotive design, quantum computing and test projects with Blockchain but also applied artificial intelligence in the company and data-supported traffic optimization in European metropolises. There will also be a world premiere at the exhibition stand.
The new car that David Kuri is swiftly and creatively painting in the air will never be built, despite the retro charm it exudes. Kuri is not a designer. But his job at Volkswagen entails supporting designers and engineers in their work – with software. With its help, designers can shape the appearance of new Volkswagen models to the last detail: virtually, without having to build anything at all. “Until now, design prototypes for new models were developed and built in reality,” says Kuri. “That costs time and money. Also, physical prototypes always only depict one specific stage in the decision-making processes, which is then outdated very quickly.”
David Kuri is a VR developer. Together with around thirty of his colleagues, he works at the Wolfsburg plant in the Virtual Engineering Lab of Volkswagen Group IT. Its primary task is to support Technical Development and Design in digitalizing processes. For example, designing a car using VR. “When I started here two years ago, there were just three of us,” says Kuri. The incredible pace at which the department has grown illustrates the enormous transformation that digitalization is effecting. And it also demonstrates the significance that Volkswagen attributes to the use of virtual reality technology for product development. The aim is to accelerate processes in several areas, to work together independent of time and place, and thus to bring products onto the market more quickly.
3D games as models
Kuri and the team in the Virtual Engineering Lab are doing pioneering work. “Our main principle is that we write our own software!” says Kuri, 26. The challenge is to build tools that designers and developers can subsequently operate easily and apply efficiently. “At the moment, we are working on a software module which enables the stages of virtual design to be saved,” says Kuri. This is important in order to test design ideas and, if necessary, to reject them without losing what has been achieved so far.
The 26-year-old benefits from his knowledge of user experience as well as what he learned in the games industry. For his master’s degree, he worked with a games developer in Essen, where he programmed algorithms to make 3D worlds look more realistic using complex light simulations. “The games industry is pushing VR development forward at a great pace,” says Kuri. He and his colleagues in the lab benefit from this. “We are very close to the innovations that the games industry comes up with. We use the same tools as the developers there.”
Sprinting to the goal
And this at a breathtaking pace. The employees give themselves six to eight months for a project, after which they usually pass it on to other departments, for example those responsible for maintenance, training, or support, “Here in the Virtual Engineering Lab, we work in an agile way according to the Scrum method,” says David Kuri. This means that the task is achieved step by step in short sprints and collaboratively with a close-knit exchange of information. “We are in constant contact with the users – for example with the designers – and design the software together with them,” Kuri explains.
David Kuri sees plenty of application areas for virtual reality at Volkswagen, for example in simulating aerodynamics. “There is a great need for virtual vehicle tests,” he says. This is where cars are brought into different virtual driving and environmental situations. “In virtual reality, the car can be taking a lot of curves through a hilly landscape in southern Italy or zooming along a motorway in northern Germany,” says the VR developer. For the programmer, it makes no difference.