How Games Engines Revolutionize Vehicle Development
Initially developed to bring computer games to life, game engines such as Unreal have found their way into the automotive industry. They are used to virtually develop and test new driving functions and to add some detail into the buying experience.
The Porsche Engineering team creates virtual worlds every day, using Unreal Engine to recreate parts of highways to train driver assistance systems, for example. Unreal Engine is a game engine that was initially developed by Epic Games for action games in the 1990s. What otherwise brings virtual adventures to the screen is also an everyday tool at Porsche Engineering: game engines teach assistance systems and help designers to visualize components. Thanks to gaming technology, customers will soon be able to take a virtual seat in the vehicle they have just ordered, long before it leaves the assembly line.
Training Advanced Driver Assistance Systems in virtual worlds
The algorithms of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) need a lot of training and validation. For example, they must learn how to detect a traffic situation at lightning speed using various sensors and react appropriately over a number of test kilometers. This would require many real test drives — and by no means every event necessary for training would occur in real-world test scenarios.
Therefore Porsche Engineering is moving ADAS training into the virtual world: game engines simulate the drives with which the algorithm practices. Every scenario and every eventuality can be played out in this way — even those that cannot be rehearsed in real life for safety reasons: the car in front brakes unexpectedly; an animal runs into the road; the sun blinds the on-board cameras.
Some of the virtual test tracks have real life models, such as A8 autobahn near Stuttgart Airport. The simulated test drives have the advantage that they can be repeated as often as required and can be controlled down to the smallest detail. They also take considerably less time than real ones. The only limiting factor here is the computing power of the hardware used.
Porsche Engineering has recently started to move virtual development to the cloud: the driving simulations are outsourced to the data centre of service providers such as Amazon Web Services, where they run in parallel on dozens of machines. When thousands of simulated cars (called instances) do their laps, the development time is drastically reduced.
How Game Engines Enhance the Buying Experience
The images generated by game engines have become so realistic that even professionals must look closely to see the difference to reality. This will also further enhance the customer’s buying experience in the future: Porsche is currently in the test phase for a Virtual Reality Car Configurator, which will then be rolled out in Porsche Centres. This system consists of a gaming PC with connected VR glasses and presents the customer on site with a three-dimensional simulation of their future vehicle. To do this, they need only briefly put together their desired model with the consultant — paint color, rims, equipment. The Car Configurator then uses Unreal to calculate an image, which is initially presented on a 65-inch screen with 4K resolution.
Customers can also put on VR glasses and inspect their dream car in three dimensions. The game engine then calculates a different perspective image for the left and right eye 60 times per second, giving the customer the impression that the vehicle is standing directly in front of them. They can walk around it, look at the rims up close, take a virtual seat, and inspect the interior right down to the seams of the leather seats.
Realistic effects without much effort
The decisive advantage of a game engine is that it can be used without much programming effort. They are also inexpensive. Corporate users like Porsche Engineering can use Unreal completely free of charge. They even receive the source code of the software so that they can adapt it to their requirements.
For around five years now, the creators of the game engine have been actively courting industrial customers — mechanical engineers, architects, and car manufacturers. To make the work of industrial users easier, Epic Games recently put together a free material package: it contains finished materials from Alcantara to walnut wood that designers can assign to the objects.
Engine of a computer game
The game engine is literally the engine of a computer game. At the core is the graphics engine, which generates the actual image: it first takes the 3D model of an object to be depicted (in its original state it consists only of grid lines) and covers it with a digital surface. This texture, as it is known, can look like wood or metal, for example. Then it is calculated where light falls, which parts of an object are in the shade and where something is reflected.
The calculation of the image is called rendering. The physics engine ensures that things in the game behave as they do in the real world. It calculates, for example, how often a thrown rock skips over the ground before it stops. To make the developers’ work easier, a kind of editor is also included with which new simulations can be created without having to program them from scratch. Millions of designers worldwide use these modular systems to create digital worlds — from mobile phone games to Hollywood action movies.
Game engines bring computer games to life — and help develop new driving functions, for example by training driver assistance systems with synthetic sensor data. Every scenario and every eventuality can be played out. In Porsche’s Car Configurator, they even help customers choose a new vehicle.
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