Volvo Cars and Epic will bring photorealistic visualization to electric cars

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Volvo Cars is bringing photorealistic visualization to the interior of its upcoming electric cars through a collaboration with Epic Games. It’s a case of car engines and game engines coming together.

Volvo will use Epic’s Unreal Engine game engine to create high-quality graphics inside the cabin. Epic Games is a game engine maker and game creator best known for Fortnite, one of the world’s largest games. Epic Games also develops Unreal Engine 5, which launched this year as a real-time 3D creation tool for both games and other industries.

Volvo Cars will use the engine to develop digital interfaces inside its cars and render real-time graphics in the car.

Volvo Cars is the first European carmaker to use the Unreal Engine for the development of the human machine interface (HMI). More specifically, it will initially focus on the driver information module (DIM), one of the displays inside the cabin that provide the driver with relevant information and infotainment features.

In the next generation of Volvo cars, customers will encounter impressive, high-quality graphics on those displays. Much sharper renderings, richer colors and brand new 3D animations are only the first steps as Volvo Cars developers continue to push the graphic envelope, the companies said.

Unreal Engine will render graphics in Volvo cars.

“To offer our customers the best possible user experience and contribute to a safe and personal drive, we need rich, immersive and responsive visualization inside our cars,” said Henrik Green, chief product officer at Volvo Cars, in a statement. “Running Unreal Engine in our cars enables this and makes it even more enjoyable to spend time inside a Volvo.”

By coupling the Unreal Engine with the computing power of the third generation Qualcomm Snapdragon Cockpit Platforms, the next generation of Volvo cars will set a new standard in graphics and infotainment system performance, Volvo said.

As a result, Volvo Cars’ next-generation infotainment system will be more than twice as fast as its predecessor, while graphics generation and processing inside the cabin will be up to ten times faster.

“When you bring interactive, high-resolution graphics running in real-time into the car, you open the
door to a vast range of new ways to inform and entertain everyone inside,” said Heiko Wenczel, Epic Games’ director of automotive and HMI for Unreal Engine, in a statement. “Volvo Cars’ deeply talented design and product development teams have grasped this opportunity to do something fresh that will keep evolving with exciting new features that take advantage of the capabilities of Unreal Engine.”

The first car to contain the new graphics is the new, all-electric flagship model that Volvo Cars will reveal later this year. That model is the first of a new generation of all-electric Volvo cars as it aims to only sell pure electric cars by 2030.

Further into the future, the company sees additional opportunities for Unreal Engine to advance other areas of technology within new Volvo cars, as Volvo Cars developers continue to explore new applications for this and other software-driven technology platforms while always keeping safety front of mind.

Volvo Cars has an ambition to develop half of all the software inside its cars in-house by mid-decade and is recruiting extensively within software development. By joining the company, coding talent has numerous opportunities to work on exciting and groundbreaking new in-car applications and platforms. That’s pretty interesting for a 40,000-person company founded in 1927.

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

Unreal Engine will power the interior graphics of Volve's upcoming electric cars.
Unreal Engine will power the interior graphics of Volve’s upcoming electric cars.

Stovicek highlights three focus areas for his team. The first is how to represent data from external
sensors (each new Volvo will have many sensors surrounding it) to make the driving experience as safe as
possible. As we move to higher levels of driver assistance, visualizing what the vehicle is seeing and the
decisions it is making will be one of the most important ways of building driver confidence.

Second, the technology provides an opportunity to deliver entirely new functions and services. These may create more value from existing data and hardware — for example using the external sensors to help the driver understand the environment around the vehicle. Or they may be completely new ideas, building on the opportunities for new functionality delivered by real-time connectivity with the cloud, with other vehicles, and with infrastructure.

Looking ahead, Stovicek is honest about not having a clear picture of the future, but that is what makes
it really exciting.

“As it was with the first smartphones, we are not quite sure where this technology will take us or even what our customers will value most,” he says. “With Unreal Engine, we now have everything in place to find out, and to bring that new customer value into our cars very quickly. And this is what is really exciting about the future.”

Epic Games has published a free-to-download Automotive Field Guide that takes the reader through the
latest and most spectacular automotive applications of virtual reality, mixed reality, augmented reality
and real-time 3D graphics.

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