Volvo taps Finnish VR tech for vehicle simulator

November 25, 2020 //By Rich Pell
'Ultimate driving simulator' uses gaming tech to design safer cars
Volvo Cars is to use a mixed-reality simulator based on technology from European suppliers to develop safety and autonomous driving systems.

Called the "the ultimate driving simulator" by Volvo engineers, the simulator features a moving driving seat, a steering wheel with haptic feedback, and a virtual reality (VR) headset that, says the company. The simulator uses technology from Finnish virtual and mixed reality startup Varjo and the Unity real-time 3D development platform, involves driving a real car on real roads.

It combines life-like, high-definition 3D graphics, an augmented reality headset, and a full-body Teslasuit that provides haptic feedback from a virtual world, while also monitoring bodily reactions. This combination of software and hardware, says the company, allows its engineers to endlessly simulate traffic scenarios on a real test track road while using a real car, all in total safety.

Using the simulator, engineers can gain important insights on the interaction between people and the car for development of new safety, driver assistance, and autonomous driving features. Testers can be exposed to imagined active safety and driver assistance features, upcoming autonomous drive user interfaces, future car models, and many other scenarios. It can be used on real test track roads or in the test lab, and every scenario is fully customizable.

"Working together with great companies like Varjo, Unity, and Teslasuit has allowed us to test so many scenarios that look and feel totally real, without having to physically build anything," says Casper Wickman, senior leader of User Experience at Volvo's Open Innovation Arena. "It lets us test drive actual cars in through traffic scenarios that look and feel real, but can be adjusted at the touch of a button."

When developing safety systems for cars, like collision-avoiding technologies, testing is crucial, says the company, but testing these systems in reality can be dangerous, time-consuming, and expensive. Virtual and mixed reality simulations, however, allow for perfectly safe testing in authentic environments, without having to build any physical prototypes or set up complex scenarios.

"By using this cutting-edge technology," says Wickman, "we are exploring and

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