Volvo Cars and Epic Games collaborate in HMI

A vision of how photorealistic, real-time 3D content will revolutionize the role of the in-car Human Machine Interface (HMI) has brought Epic Games and Volvo Cars together.

The underlying technology is Unreal Engine, the visualization tool developed by Epic Games and used to power one of the world’s biggest games, Fortnite. Unreal Engine runs on the HMI and offers state-of-the-art graphics in addition to a host of other functionality that is new to the automotive industry, but well proven in the game industry. Heiko Wenczel, director of Automotive at Epic, says key features include full multi-user scalability, fast two-way data communication to and from the cloud, and integrated data security systems. Unreal Engine’s software is also optimized for use on a wide variety of computing platforms, including devices with relatively low power consumption, making it ideal for the tightly packaged, cost-sensitive HMI hardware required for automotive applications.

“This new relationship isn’t just about bringing stunning, game-quality graphics to our cars. It’s about new ways of using visual communication to explain new technologies, deliver new customer value and bring the outside world safely into the vehicle,” said Thomas Stovicek, Head of User Experience at Volvo Cars.

“With so many new ideas to explore and bring to market, we are also excited about the speed and efficiency benefits of our HMI development processes,” added Stovicek. Central to this is the closer relationship between designers and engineers that is facilitated by the ease of use of Unreal Engine. “We no longer have to develop the HMI functionality in a time-consuming iterative process,” Stovicek continues. “Unreal Engine’s intuitive visual scripting and C++ functionality ensures a seamless workflow from concept to production, bringing designers and engineers together in a single space where their ideas can thrive.”

Stovicek emphasizes three areas of focus for his team. The first is how data from external sensors should be displayed (there will be many around any new Volvo) to make the driving experience as safe as possible. As we move to higher levels of driver assistance systems, visualizing what the vehicle sees and the decisions it makes will be one of the most important ways to build driver confidence.

Second, there is the opportunity to offer entirely new features and services. These can create more value from existing data and hardware, for example by using the external sensors to help the driver understand the environment around the vehicle. Or they could be completely new ideas, building on the incredible possibilities for new functionality offered by real-time connectivity to the cloud, to other vehicles and to infrastructure. Volvo Cars is already looking at new functionality to be launched in the coming years via over-the-air updates, making them available for any vehicle equipped with the new HMI.

Finally, the system must ensure that while the HMI continues to deliver more and richer layers of information, the driver’s cognitive bandwidth is effectively managed, enabling a high flow of information without additional distraction or stress. “This isn’t just about good design,” adds Wenczel of Epic. “For example, differences between reality and the display may require the driver’s brain to close the gap and translate one to the other. This increases the cognitive load and means the driver’s eyes are off the road longer than they should. Real-time visualization makes an important contribution to eliminating this disparity and an equally stressful latency.”

Looking ahead, Stovicek acknowledges that there is no clear picture of the future. “As it was with the first smartphones, we don’t know exactly where this technology will take us or even what our customers will appreciate most,” he says. “With Unreal Engine, we now have what it takes to find out and bring that new customer value into our cars very quickly. And this is what’s really exciting about the future.”

The first Volvo car with Unreal Engine will be an all-new electric SUV, to be unveiled later this year.

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