How much have we changed? Since I began my adventures in motor journalism, I have been able to enjoy a few visits to factories and work centers. All of them have surprised me, to a greater or lesser extent, of course, but in none of them have I felt that everything is moving faster than I could imagine.
With this same feeling I left the European Design Center that Hyundai has in Rüsselsheim, Germany. Visiting a factory like Martorell is something exceptional where you can observe the constant choreography between human and machine to remove, in a constant trickle, hundreds and thousands of vehicles. With Renault I have been able to learn how they study sound at their facilities in Aubevoye in France. But instead, Hyundai showed us something we didn’t think was possible until very recently: how virtual reality helps them design their vehicles.
With the feet… in the digital
If you have already had any contact with the virtual reality, it is very likely that my descriptions will ring a bell. If you haven’t had that luck, I recommend you find a way to experience it for yourself.
During our visit to the space that Hyundai has dedicated to design in Europe, we were able to put on virtual reality glasses on three occasions to learn more about how its teams work. Up to 350 workers meet daily at the Rüsselsheim site, of which 65 employees are fully dedicated to the design of future vehicles. In 2005, the design studio was opened with just 10 workers.
I have to say that, when they explained to us what our visit would consist of, the question of whether everything was part of a demo or if, on the contrary, it was really true that they work with the workflows that I will now comment on, remained suspended in my mind. . Eduardo Ramírez, General Manager of Exterior Design at Hyundai, confirmed that use these gadgets on a daily basis to improve your communication with other employees and speed up deadlines.
The first thing we were able to try was some professional glasses from the Varjo brand. The figures are scary: 6,000 euros glasses, 13,000 euros hardware to move the renderings and software that accompanies the package of between 10,000 and 12,000 euros per year. The result is projected before our eyes. Sitting on some small benches, we lose contact with reality and find ourselves inside the new Hyundai Ioniq SEVEN, the prototype that anticipates the brand’s next great electric SUV.
The responsible engineers tell us that with the projection of these images they can carry out demonstrations of what will the interior be like of the vehicle, with changes almost in real time, which helps them understand how the light will behave inside the cabin in different environments: at night, on a sunny day at the beach, cloudy in the city…
In addition, with a small control they allow us to point to different points and instantly know what is moving and what is not inside this Ioniq SEVEN. What secrets does the vehicle hide without the need to be inside a full-size model? It is a representation with which engineers can simultaneously analyze the appearance offered by different materials or fabrics. In fact, it seems that we could touch it, but the truth is that we only wave our hands in the air comically in front of those who are oblivious to our own digital reality.
We move forward and go to a much more abstract place. Armed with an HP Oculus, one of the Hyundai designers explains that before us we are going to see the 3d rendering and digital of a car sketch. And putting on the virtual reality glasses is like jumping into a space of weightlessness, where we are shown orange lines suspended in the void and giving shape to what, in real life, would only be a small drawing in charcoal.
With the movement of the hands, where two small controls place us, we move through the digital space, changing the colors of the lines, their thickness and their size. And we have the opportunity to draw our own car (or at least try). Do you want a graphic description? It’s the closest thing to Homer Simpson entering a new dimension.
Finally, we come to the vision lab. A space of 20×23 meters surrounded by 48 cameras where, armed with glasses and a backpack, we had the opportunity to discuss the design of the Ioniq SEVEN with Simon Loasby, Head of Styling at Hyundai’s global design and R&D center.
Nothing unusual in a presentation if it weren’t for the fact that we walk, in the form of an avatar, around the vehicle. What we were really doing was walking around an empty room but before our eyes we had the prototype, which was generated in real time and responded to our movements, whether we crouched or stood on tiptoe to see inside. And all alongside Simon Loasby… who was thousands and thousands of miles away. Specifically in his office in Namyang, Korea.
“Honey, I’m from Korea”
But all this, what for? During the visit we had the opportunity to speak with Simon Loasby about the design of the Hyundai Ioniq Seven from a distance of eleven and a half hours of airplaine. Thomas Bürkle, Head of Design at the center, also explained everything about his work. But it was Eduardo Ramírez who best reflected in a sentence what they use these technologies for.
“I get up very early and discuss with Simon all the details of our projects, I put on my glasses and discuss with him what works and what we should change. When we finish, I take off my glasses, go to the kitchen and while I make myself a coffee I tell my wife: darling, I come from Korea,” Ramírez explained.
And the truth is that for that, exactly, is what Hyundai has invested in virtual reality technology. Virtual reality glasses have allowed their workers a kind of omnipresence. “When our studios around the world sent their designers home, we were lucky that we already had a very well-oiled machine running in terms of remote virtual connection: we could all connect from three different continents and five different locations in a virtual workspace and moving around the cars,” says Loasby.
And it is that, as the workers themselves recognized us, having a computer and virtual reality glasses has allowed them to connect to meetings in all kinds of situations, from train trips to airport waiting rooms. A way of working that cleans up a good part of email conversations and discussions prior to a design decision at a stroke. With virtual reality, employees can argue in front of digital renderings to which they can apply almost infinite changes in shapes, colors and even materials or fabrics.
Although Hyundai does not quantify it, it is a significant time savings, money and polluting emissions, since travel is reduced, either to the office or with international flights to agree on ideas face to face. What the brand does ensure is that 80% of the design work for its future models is digitized.
“Here we only worked 10 people”
As we mentioned above. Hyundai’s design center in Rüsselsheim was opened by 10 people dedicated to the future of its upcoming models. Little by little the company invested in their work and, at the moment, 65 employees fully dedicated to the design of their future models have their niche there.
Among the veterans is Thomas Bürkle, in charge of guiding us through the bowels of the building. within its gates, absolute secrecy. Our cell phones were covered so as not to reveal anything that could not be revealed. In any case, the works of the next few years were already in a safe place when we passed by.
What we do confirm is that the computer and monitor have largely replaced the traditional pencil and paper design. This has been reduced to a kind of competition between designers, who play with sketches to imagine what mythical vehicles in automotive history would have been like if they had been designed today with Hyundai’s master lines.
The diaphanous spaces were followed by an impressive room where color and materials formed the cornerstone of the room, where the materials, textures and textiles of the cabins of their next vehicles. An explosion of colors so striking that one could not help but be surprised by the number of shades and gradients of the same red, blue or yellow.
Finally, the room where everything takes shape. The place where the machinery makes the models of the vehicles, many of them in real size on the digital plans previously studied. A space to discuss, and feel, the final image of each car.
Of course, the tentacles of virtual reality have also arrived here and, obviously, Thomas Bürkle confirms that the number of vehicles they need to build in model they are now less, thanks to the great realism and immersion of the digital environment. If this is part of the metaverse, Hyundai knows how to take advantage of it.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism