Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Volvo sees Microsoft HoloLens speeding up car development

TORSLANDA, Sweden — Volvo has given a small group of its engineers “superpowers” that it believes its rivals currently cannot match.

The roughly 15 car developers based at Volvo’s global headquarters here near Gothenburg have the ability to see through walls of steel and turn an engine upside down with one finger.

This is possible because Volvo says it is the first automaker to test Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality goggles as a tool, one that could dramatically speed up car development, which would help the automaker meet its goal of reducing the time it takes to develop a new model to 20 months by 2020 from 30 months now.

Volvo let Automotive News Europe test and interact with the technology (see video of how it works below).

Retail-centric first use

Volvo has spent much of this year letting customers in Europe, Russia and China test the goggles.

This retail-centric first use of the technology has given the Swedish automaker a chance to provide customers with demonstrations of its safety feature and its new semi-autonomous driving technology using actual-size 3-D holograms of models such as the new S90 sedan.

After fielding numerous suggestions on what else it should do with the technology, Volvo decided to put it into the hands of the people shaping the company’s future.

“We wanted a complimentary tool that engineers could use to develop cars,” said Loris Cwyl, who is a team manager and business developer on Volvo’s digital & connectivity consumer services unit.

Cwyl leads a team of eight software developers who have created something Volvo’s engineers say helps speed up problem solving.

He said one example is that during a typical meeting it could take 10 minutes to explain a problem because someone in the room might have trouble understanding the verbal description. With the HoloLens, the person can see the problem first hand in the exact location where it exists.

Cecilia Larsson, Volvo’s vice president of body and trim engineering, sees another advantage.

“It is possible to bring new people up to speed on a project almost immediately because they can see exactly what the team is working on,” Larsson said while viewing a hologram of part of the XC90’s exhaust system with journalists and another member of the small team that has gotten to work with the technology, Pontus Johansson, who is Volvo’s director of geometry concept and integration.

One of Johansson’s responsibilities is to make sure that everything fits. If it doesn’t, sometimes he and his team have to make adjustments. It is a constant give and take that he believes can only improve as Volvo looks for ways to expand its use of augmented reality in the development process.

“It is impossible to make beautiful premium cars without interaction between engineering and design,” he said, adding that he thinks the HoloLen can promote closer collaboration between all of the different contributors to the product that ends up in dealer showrooms.

Said Cwyl: “When we show this to engineers they are ecstatic about the potential.”

Volvo pointed out that it will not replace physical models of its thousands of components with AR versions, but its engineers will be using the HoloLen for some development work in the future. The company is evaluating to what degree this will happen and how it might be able to expand the us of AR even further in the future.

“This is still a prototype,” Cwyl said, “but we already see multiple business cases.”

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