Virtual reality is a unique technology that transports users to a simulated environment. It creates a fully immersive experience by shutting out the user’s real world, so everything that the user sees, hears, and senses is part of the simulated environment.
Many people associate virtual reality technology with the gaming industry. It’s true that virtual reality has been used to develop a wide range of fun games for consumers, but it has also been used in a multitude of ways outside of the gaming industry.
In the automotive industry, for example, virtual reality technology has been used to completely revolutionize the process of designing new vehicles. How can automotive manufacturers use virtual reality for car design? What are the benefits of using this technology in this manner? Here’s what you should know:
What Inspired Automotive Manufacturers to Design Cars With Virtual Reality?
A few automotive manufacturers have been experimenting with using virtual reality to design vehicles for the last several years. But the COVID-19 global pandemic was the main factor that led to the widespread adoption of using virtual reality technology in this way.
Stay-at-home orders and lockdown restrictions forced many companies, including automotive manufacturers, to temporarily close their offices for months in 2020. Automotive design teams were temporarily unable to work together under the same roof, so they were forced to find new ways to collaborate on future designs. As a result, many automotive manufacturers turned to virtual reality technology to design new vehicles.
Even though COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have now been lifted, many automotive manufacturers are still using this technology to simplify the design process.
How Are Cars Designed With Virtual Reality?
Before learning how virtual reality is used to design new vehicles, it’s important to understand how automotive manufacturers designed vehicles in the past.
The design process typically starts out the same regardless of whether or not virtual reality is used. It generally begins with several meetings where designers can share ideas and get feedback. After these meetings are over, the designers will create concept sketches to present to the company’s decision makers.
The next steps will vary depending on whether the design team is using virtual reality technology. If the team is not using virtual reality technology, they will create a clay prototype of the design once the concept sketch has been approved by the decision makers. The design will then go through multiple rounds of edits based on the team’s input. Each time the design is revised, the team must create a new clay prototype to reflect the changes. This process continues until the design has been finalized.
However, if the team is using virtual reality technology, they will not need to go through the trouble of creating multiple clay prototypes. Instead, the design team can use virtual reality technology to create a virtual model of the vehicle once the concept sketch has been approved.
Design teams must use virtual reality technology to create these virtual models. Designers can put on a virtual reality headset to instantly transport to a three-dimensional work environment. They use handheld controls to sketch lines, make edits, and manipulate the design of the vehicle. Using these controllers, they can rotate the model so they can view it from any angle. Designers can even place a virtual driver behind the wheel or step inside the virtual model to view the interior.
The design will still go through multiple rounds of edits, but all changes will be made directly to the virtual model rather than a clay prototype.
What Are the Benefits of Using Virtual Reality for Car Design?
There are many benefits to using virtual reality for car design. First, the use of virtual reality can speed up the design process. According to Ford, the process of creating a model or prototype used to take weeks. But using this technology, an experienced designer can create a virtual model in under an hour.
In other words, virtual reality technology can help automotive manufacturers quickly finalize new designs so they can start production on new vehicles right away.
Virtual reality saves automotive manufacturers money, too. It eliminates the need to create multiple clay prototypes, which are costly and time-consuming to produce. Eliminating this step in the process leads to significant savings for automotive manufacturers.
Virtually designing also gives designers the chance to get up close to a life-size model of the vehicle. This makes it easier for designers to spot design issues so they can be addressed earlier on in the process.
For example, virtual reality software allows designers to adjust their perspective so they can put themselves in the driver’s seat of the vehicle. This gives them the opportunity to identify and address issues with the driver’s visibility in the early stages of the design process.
It doesn’t take long to train designers on how to use this technology, either. Ford’s Design Manager, Michael Smith, has stated that it only takes about eight hours of training. Plus, many younger designers are already being taught how to use this technology in school.
These are some of the many reasons why virtual design has become increasingly popular among automotive manufacturers.
The Many Applications of Virtual Reality in the Automotive Industry
The automotive industry uses virtual reality technology outside of the design process, too. Some of its many applications in the automotive industry include:
- Employee Training
- Market Research
- Virtual Showrooms
- Virtual Test Drives
Many automotive companies now use virtual reality technology to provide training to manufacturing and maintenance employees. Using this technology gives these employees the chance to get hands-on experience in a simulated environment where mistakes don’t have consequences.
Automotive companies also use virtual reality technology to train sales employees. Using this technology helps sales employees get familiar with the different features and selling points on a wide range of vehicles so they are prepared to interact with customers. It can also put sales employees in simulated environments where they learn how to respond to different circumstances that may occur during the sales process. This extensive training could help sales employees improve their sales techniques and close more deals.
Automotive manufacturers often conduct market research by hosting car clinics, which give consumers a chance to review and provide feedback on different models. Manufacturers receive invaluable feedback on what consumers like and don’t like during these car clinics, but they are expensive to host. However, virtual reality technology allows automotive manufacturers to host these clinics at a fraction of the cost.
Hosting a virtual car clinic allows a manufacturer to avoid the cost of booking a venue and transporting consumers and vehicles to the event. Eliminating these costs makes conducting market research far more affordable for manufacturers of all sizes.
Ten years ago, automotive consumers used to visit an average of five dealerships before deciding which vehicle to purchase. But the days of visiting multiple dealerships to learn more about different vehicles are over. Thanks to virtual reality technology, automotive consumers can now step inside virtual showrooms to explore countless vehicles using only their smartphones or computers.
A virtual showroom is just like a real showroom, except it exists in a simulated environment created by virtual reality technology. Automotive consumers can still walk around each vehicle, inspect the interior and exterior, and see it from different viewpoints and angles. Consumers can even see what the vehicle looks like in every color option available.
This gives consumers the power to conduct extensive research on their options from home, so they only need to visit a dealership once they’re ready to purchase a vehicle. This is one of the reasons why the average consumer now only visits one or two dealerships before making a purchase.
Virtual Test Drives
Surveys reveal that the vast majority of consumers are open to purchasing a vehicle online. However, one of the main issues that consumers identified with buying a car online is the inability to take a test drive. Fortunately, there is a way to move the car buying process online without forcing consumers to sacrifice the test drive.
Many automotive manufacturers now offer consumers the option to take virtual test drives of vehicles they are interested in purchasing. This gives consumers the opportunity to test out different vehicles without ever stepping foot inside a dealership. They can see what it’s like to sit behind the wheel and take the vehicle for a virtual spin from the comfort of their home.
Taking a virtual test drive is easy, especially because it doesn’t require the use of a virtual reality headset. Instead, consumers can take advantage of this test drive option using just their smartphone or computer. Using virtual reality in this manner makes it easier for consumers to research and compare different vehicles, narrow down their options, and choose a vehicle that’s right for them.
These are some of the many ways in which virtual reality technology is used in the automotive industry. The COVID-19 pandemic may have sparked the widespread adoption of virtual design, but there’s no doubt that this technology is here to stay in the automotive industry.