Call to mind the Byton Concept SUV, launched at the CES in January, and you’re likely to think of one thing: its 49-inch by 10-inch screen that chomps horizontally through just about half of the entire IP. But while its dimensions grab the headlines, the screen’s facial-recognition-based UX gave substance to its rather grand dimensions – a UX built using computer game-maker Unity’s development platform.
The parallels between automotive UX and the gaming world had rather escaped the attention of Unity, part of the game development industry for the past 15 years, according to senior technical product manager, Ed Martin. Talking to Car Design News at Unity’s Unite 2018 developer event in Berlin, Martin told us “Our heritage is in gaming, but innovators in the automotive sector saw their problems, saw our platform, and saw the opportunity that Unity offered when they put the two together.”
Martin explains that “unlike a software application, Unity is a highly customisable platform that allows designers to create anything from a 2D mobile phone game to a full multi-car 3D visualisation. All you need is to find a Unity developer and they can build pretty much whatever you need.”
Unity has been working with several automotive OEMs for years, with the likes of Toyota, Mercedes and the VW Group using the firm’s platform to create virtual reality training resources, AI-designed environments for digitally testing autonomous cars and car configurators – check out the Porsche Mission E app, built in Unity, for a good example of the platform in action.
However, it has also made significant progress in the car design world. A key benefit of its platform is that it allows immediacy. “Immediacy is the key differentiator,” says Martin. “Unity is real time, allowing a designer to interact with a 3D model immediately.” That immediacy can also save money – around $5 million per car designed, according to the firm. However, the head of Unity’s newly-formed Automotive Division, Tim McDonough, told CDN that the bigger saving is with time:
“As the platform is game-derived, it has real-time rendering capabilities that allow design tweaks to be made in minutes, rather than say painstakingly reworking a clay model. But we’ve found that rather than reduce time, OEMs tend to repurpose time, allowing designers to iterate more. The platform also allows you to place say 12 proposals all side to side and in an almost infinite set of environments, helping to improve design quality all the way.”
Perhaps the most intriguing feature is the platform’s ability to bring designs to life. 3D creation tool Gravity Sketch uses the Unity platform to offer designers the ability to sketch in VR using an HTC Vive or similar. The VW Group is also using Unity’s ability to accurately simulate interior HMI, allowing design teams to refine all aspects of the system’s functions, tweaking as they go.
In a time when the emphasis on interior design has never been greater, the platform’s ability to accelerate HMI development, particularly in conjunction with autonomous cars, alongside its speed boost to the iterative process, promises exciting times ahead.