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Virtual Technologies

Virtual technologies play a key role in product development throughout the Volkswagen Group. Virtual technologies are a response to the increasing number of models, versions and variants and reduced development times that characterise today’s automotive product development process.

This is why Volkswagen Group Research actively works to resolve research-related issues in the fields of virtual reality and augmented reality. Current trends are analysed, and innovations in the field of virtual technologies are initiated as part of ongoing research in this sector. New methods and applications are also researched and developed which are used within the various departments as part of the product creation process. The transfer of research results means that processes are sped up, costs are saved and employees are supported with digital information in their day-to-day activities.

Volkswagen Group Research develops and delivers innovative, customer-oriented and integrated technologies for processes and vehicle projects in order to inspire our customers.

Mobile Augmented Reality

MARTA – innovative service support tool for the Volkswagen XL1

Today's vehicles like the XL1 are characterised by continually growing complexity. This means that service employees will need more extensive support in servicing new vehicles and their innovative functions. The XL1 is a technological frontrunner – not only in its lightweight design, aerodynamics and state-of-the-art drive technology, but in the service area as well.

The working methods and sequences of work steps used by employees of Volkswagen Service in their everyday work are highly dependent upon a vehicle's equipment and features. To make it easier to manage this growing complexity, employees must be efficiently supported in their work activities. This requires advanced development of the classic repair instructions which show the employee how to perform the tasks of the specific job, step by step, with relevant supplemental information such as the tools to be used, assembly configurations and test specifications.

To achieve these goals, Volkswagen developed a new display system for service information, especially for the XL1, which also provides the information on tablets and shows the service employee the next work steps directly. What is known as the MARTA (Mobile Augmented Reality Technical Assistance) system, which was developed together with the company Metaio GmbH, shows real and virtual parts in three-dimensional relation to one another.

Using the previous approach, the service technician could only call up digital repair guidelines. For the XL1, these guidelines were supplemented by the MARTA augmented reality function which “labels” the individual parts and elements with text and shows work instructions clearly.

When MARTA is called up, the system lists all of the jobs to be performed along with the necessary equipment. Each work task to be performed begins with what is known as an initialisation. The vehicle's silhouette is shown in the display of the mobile end device, and it shows the employee the orientation to be taken in relation to the vehicle. If the silhouette and the camera image of the real vehicle agree, the initialisation is finished successfully. Then the individual context-dependent work steps are shown on the tablet. This gives the employee a new system for identifying work items quicker and more accurately.

Spatial Augmented Reality

Projection of virtual data onto a real design model.

Use of spatial augmented reality in the automotive industry

Virtual technologies are increasingly used nowadays in response to the rising number of equipment and model variants in the vehicle design and development process. The use of virtual technologies means that a considerable number of variants can be shown, modified and assessed at a very early phase of the process, thereby reducing the time and costs required for the overall process. The virtual data is displayed on a monitor, a large projection screen or in a CAVE™*.

Despite these display options, real hardware models continue to be used in preference over virtual data in many of the process steps. The reason for this is that forms, curves and geometries can be assessed more effectively using a vehicle model in reality than via a purely virtual display, particularly because virtual data is shown on conventional displays such as a monitor, where data is often scaled down in size and is not an accurate reflection of reality. Even if virtual data is shown in the correct ratios, many developers note that their perception of the data is skewed. Therefore, perception of size in virtual data continues to present a challenge and is an issue currently being researched.

For this reason, so-called 'augmented reality' (AR) is receiving more and more attention in the automotive industry. AR is used to ensure that virtual data is visualised with actual proportions and sizes, meaning that the data can be assessed more effectively by the designer. One branch of augmented reality which is of particular interest to the automotive industry in this regard is 'spatial augmented reality' (SAR). With this technology, a projector is used to show virtual data on a real model such as a vehicle or design model.

Use of SAR in the interior design process: (a) setup with two projectors and a real model; (b-d) projection of various design variants onto the model

The advantage of SAR in the design and development process is that the user can analyse the virtual data straight away in reality in a familiar environment. This means that the acceptance rate for this technology is extremely high.

To meet quality requirements in the design and development process, various factors must therefore be taken into consideration, e.g. the geometry and material of the model, surrounding light, and the position of the projector and observer. Ideally, it would be impossible to distinguish the visualisation of the virtual data from a real vehicle. These topics are addressed as part of research projects, and new methods are being explored for overcoming these challenges in the automotive design and development process.

* Cave Automatic Virtual Environment – Immersive virtual reality environment where projectors are directed to multiple walls of a room-sized cube.

Volkswagen Group Research is responsible for studying the feasibility of this matter and not its use as standard equipment. The use in vehicle production is not currently planned at this time.