Audi Virtual Reality Assembly Press Photo

Audi Tests Production in Virtual Reality

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Ever wonder how car companies plan all the steps of actually building a new model for the first time? In the case of Audi, they use virtual reality.

Audi Virtual Reality Assembly Press Photo
Pre-series development: Three years before the start of production, Katharina Kunz and her colleagues check virtually whether the assembly of a component is feasible. (Photo: Audi AG)

A press release from Audi AG said the automaker checks individual assembly steps of new models during the “pre-series development” phase by using, basically, a video game. Using projectors, three-dimensional images of parts are displayed on a floor and a wall, and Audi engineers can delve into this virtual world using 3D glasses, the release said.

The virtual components can then be controlled by using a controller from a video game console, according to Audi. However, to take this virtual reality development to the next level of realism, Audi said it is utilizing a product called the Myo — an armband reportedly developed in the gaming industry for gesture control.

Audi Development Engineer for Virtual Validation Katharina Kunz said, “We want to make picking up and moving the components more intuitive in the future.”

According to the release, the Myo armband measures muscle currents in the forearm to deduce how the user is moving his or her hands and fingers — to ensure unintended movements don’t register, the user activates the system by touching their thumb and middle finger. That motion info is then sent to a computer via Bluetooth technology, Audi said. That computer reportedly collects position information of the armband user by utilizing an overhead-mounted infrared camera.

You might know the camera if you have a Microsoft Xbox, because the release said it is the Kinect camera. That’s right: It’s the peripheral that Microsoft originally sold with every Xbox before eventually dropping the piece of hardware for those who balked at the price of Kinect-euipped Xbox One gaming systems.

No word on whether Audi engineers get together to play “Just Dance 2014” using that Kinect camera in their downtime.

The release said Kunz and her team “frequently” use technology from the gaming world.

“They are ideal for us because they are relatively inexpensive and are being developed rapidly,” Kunz said.

The point of it all is to check out the parts assembly process for a new car well before physical parts are produced, Audi said. The release said the engineers assemble individual parts virtually, determining whether the assembly process is feasible and ergonomic for employees on the assembly line.

It’s a smart idea, obviously. The virtual reality setup probably saves engineers a lot of time in mocking up a production scenario for an all-new model — and as we know, time is money in the auto industry. That’s not to mention the probable injury downtime and compensation savings Audi stands to reap from determining the ergonomics of any production process before it makes its way down to workers on the production floor. The release said the engineers utilize the virtual reality environment approximately three years before a new model makes it to production, leaving plenty of lead time to engineer changes in the design or the production process to iron out any wrinkles they may find.

The real bonus for Audi here is the fact the automaker doesn’t need to engineer this virtual reality solution from scratch. With the video game industry doing so much work on immersive environments and innovative control systems, the hardware development workload for Audi’s engineers is all but eliminated. That leaves them to able to focus on their work developing the software and production scenarios outlined above.

Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson is a husband and father of two who has now spent more of his life as a journalist than as a non-journalist. He serves as assistant editor at his hometown weekly paper in rural Tennessee and freelances in the automotive journalism world.