Aiming for the clouds – How visualization technology is transforming automotive engineering processes

Heiko Wenczel

Stellantis and now the Sony/Honda partnership are making big claims for HMI-focused business concepts. What is their vision?

I can’t speak for these companies, but I can give a glimpse of a future that has caught the attention of many of the most visionary automakers. Today they have a unique profit opportunity. They sell the car, make their money on the metal and the options in it, and then have a typically high margin trickle but low volume of revenue from their aging fleet in need of spare parts. Cloud-based services allow automakers to extend the customer relationship much deeper into the life of the vehicle.

A few of the biggest names have highlighted their partnerships with one of the major cloud service providers, which strongly suggests their offerings will be real-time, streamed in the car, and far more sophisticated than anything we’ve seen so far. ‘now. I can’t tell you what this new approach will look like ten years from now because I don’t think anyone really knows. We have a clear understanding of the opportunities, so we know that the first steps are to provide each new vehicle with a flexible technology platform and user interface that can be updated live as ideas and feedback arise. services are growing. Success will ultimately depend on the innovation and quality of these services and how they are offered and priced. So I can see a lot of different approaches being tried, a lot of changing strategies, and a lot of learning before I get an answer.

What will these new customer relationships look like?

One possible approach is for each end customer to have an account with the automaker, covering everything from finance, insurance and maintenance to the kind of apps you’ll find on your phone. Several industry trends already point to this as an effective way to consolidate vehicle-related services into one relationship. For example, on-board diagnostics predict vehicle maintenance needs and liaise with service centers, inform the vehicle owner and offer a range of solutions. Using a business model similar to our mobile phones, ownership packages could include unlimited miles or could be paid by the mile. We’re already seeing automakers experiment with pay-as-you-go features that they can activate for limited times, on-demand.

At the heart of this capability will be the HMI – the human-machine interface. Today we have increasingly impressive screens, often multiple screens, giving designers tremendous opportunities to impress and delight vehicle buyers. But beyond the stunning graphics, talking to our customers reveals much deeper layers of thinking. These companies are already getting more value from their HMI by using it to communicate sophisticated ideas around new technologies such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), electric vehicle systems and even off-road driving. It’s really the first step in the journey, but it’s also a new beginning, with a new kind of HMI capability that enables everything we’re talking about.

What is the role of a computer game company like yours in this journey?

When you list the expertise required for this trip versus the expertise of a car manufacturer, many of the missing ticks are those that are already well understood and proven within the major computer game companies.

When Epic Games first started working with HMI developers, it was a combination of the speed of development and the ability to bring their imaginations to life that got them excited. The next step goes even further by building on the technological expertise that has delivered games like Fortnite: proven and fully scalable multi-user systems with secure and highly robust real-time data streaming, monetization programs based on decades of learning, and an impressive ecosystem of expert independent third-party app developers.

Automakers already rely on this “epic ecosystem” – the world of developers using our Unreal Engine technology platform to create a huge range of products, from movies and rock concerts to styling and engineering tools – planning how to bring high-value existing content to their screens. Examples include rock concert graphics and movie design themes. I’ve been impressed with those developing immersive collaboration environments that allow a wide range of businesses to work together in Unreal Engine in real time, exploring how to add the most value through this new resource. The first steps may be licensing content and themes that can be downloaded over-the-air by the vehicle user, but the possibilities are as vast as the developers’ imaginations.

Are you also involved in hardware development?

The answer is no, but it’s a good question because there are also very powerful hardware reasons for choosing a major gaming platform like Unreal Engine, especially with today’s semiconductor shortage in mind. Just like in the automotive industry, cost and packaging are important factors for us. We’ve made substantial investments in learning how to run gaming-grade content on relatively inexpensive hardware like mobile phones, using smart software to reduce hardware overhead and provide hardware independence.

Is this the start of a journey to the metaverse?

Fortnite, one of the most popular online games in the world, already hosts non-gaming experiences such as concerts and film festivals, representing a first glimpse of what the metaverse could be like. We’ve seen tens of millions of players come to Fortnite for events that reach global audiences, delivering reach that could never be physically achieved. This gives us a first understanding of how the relationship and interactions between brands and consumers will change from now on. Ferrari, for example, worked closely with us to make their new 296 GTB the first drivable car within Fortnite and tied that experience into the sale. branded clothes. The data from which the Fortnite car was built is the same data used to build the vehicle configurator; a great example of the “build once, use many times” philosophy.

These are tactical implementations, which work well but in relative isolation. The question for the automotive industry is, what does an effective metaverse strategy look like?

For me, the Metaverse presents limitless opportunities, where potential buyers can test drive cars, see features of a car in action and discuss specs with dealers, or view a custom setup at our favorite places. This digital journey is already underway with several of our customers taking their first steps creating vehicle configurators in Unreal Engine.

Do you see any areas where automakers’ strategies diverge?

It is far too early to draw any deep conclusions, but two areas stand out. Both are related to the degree of control they want internally. The first is the decision on how much software to develop themselves. One of the German groups is even in the process of creating its own operating system, but this is a very resource-intensive strategy. This company claims that by 2025, its automotive software organization will employ 10,000 digital experts, giving it a highly integrated vehicle software architecture and 60% internal control of vehicle software.

The other strategy, adopted by one of the major global groups, is to join forces with established specialists, particularly those in the “Tech” industry, to accelerate development by relying on proven technology. Of course, companies that choose to take much of the software in-house can also do so, in specialized areas. With HMI, for example, Rivian, Volvo and GM use Unreal Engine and this year we will announce a series of new relationships in Europe, the United States and Asia. Some of them will provide much of what we are discussing here.

The second area where we’re fairly certain strategies will diverge is the choice between a closed ecosystem approach with tight controls and a more open system where the automaker manages the platform and sets peak parameters but allows developers to build freely within these guidelines. It’s a hot topic right now, but it’s one automakers need to address now if they want to take ownership of the customer experience later.


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