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Innovation

The car of the future

A visit to Volkswagen’s Virtual Engineering Lab.

Florian Uhde (left) and Christopher Krey (right) from the Virtual Engineering Lab examine the Golf’s chassis.

Bright daylight floods into the Volkswagen Virtual Engineering Lab in Wolfsburg. Two dozen screens glow, some showing graphics, others displaying hundreds of lines of flickering code. In the middle of the room is a 1:4 scale plasticine model of a Golf. Frank Ostermann examines the model, then changes the wheels, replaces the rear lights, and modifies the exterior mirrors. Ostermann changes the design using gestures and speech commands. It all takes place in a matter of seconds and is made possible by augmented reality. The software for this was developed in the Virtual Engineering Lab and could enable the team to revolutionize the work of designers and engineers.

» At the Virtual Engineering Lab, we have taken another big step further. «

Frank Ostermann

Ostermann is wearing the mixed reality glasses called the HoloLens. This mobile computer, developed by Microsoft, projects virtual contents onto a physical object using gesture control and speech commands. Ostermann only needs to point his finger and the HoloLens immediately gives the Golf a different paint color, then it applies different wheels and changes the bumpers. The Golf starts off as an R-Line model, then becomes a completely new version. In another six months, it may be rolling into the showrooms.

Florian Uhde changes the model’s wheel version with gestures. Live on the spot via Skype: Frank Ostermann.

Ostermann (52) is a computer science engineer. He runs Volkswagen’s Virtual Engineering Lab in Wolfsburg, one of six labs now run by Volkswagen Group IT in Wolfsburg, Berlin, Munich, and San Francisco. The newest lab is currently being opened in Barcelona. In these labs, Volkswagen IT experts and software specialists work together with research institutions and technology partners to create the digital future. In close collaboration, new solutions emerge here in the areas of big data, Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things, connectivity, mobility services and virtual reality.

“We have been using augmented reality and virtual reality at Volkswagen for some time, but until now they were mainly used for three-dimensional observation,” says Ostermann. “At the Virtual Engineering Lab, we have taken another big step further. We use the technology as a working tool for technological development. This enables Volkswagen engineers to work on a virtual car, to change its fittings in any way they like, even to construct new components virtually, and to directly experience the results of their work.”

“We work very closely with our colleagues in Technical Development and are therefore very close to the newest vehicle concepts and design studies,” says Ostermann. “We bring our expertise into technical product development and offer tailor-made solutions for all Group brands in the fields of virtual engineering and systems engineering.”

But what is it all for? Augmented and virtual reality help to save time and development costs. Procedural steps can be made quicker and more efficient – for example, with the HoloLens software in the Virtual Engineering Lab.

Christopher Krey (left) and Konstantin Wall (right) test the Golf’s streamline flow using HoloLens software.

The HoloLens doesn’t just project every change in the design or fittings directly onto a physical model, it also enables different project teams to work together at the same time regardless of location – for example, teams from Wolfsburg, Chattanooga, and Shanghai. That’s because all participants always have the current model design projected in front of their eyes, making time-intensive reworking – for instance, on a plasticine model – no longer necessary. “The teams can directly observe, compare and decide on minimal changes to the model. This enables them to achieve their goals considerably faster,” Ostermann says.

The HoloLens software is currently still in the testing phase; in the future, it will be used to call up the Volkswagen brand’s entire model portfolio, and also to display different body versions of a model in all possible varieties. Developers will then be able to virtually convert a sedan to an SUV, a Variant, a Cabrio, or a Coupé. “A few years ago, this was still science fiction,” Ostermann says. “Today, we know that we will be developing our next cars this way and no other.”