A large, dark and empty room. A white closed box on wheels stands in its middle. “Is that all?” I ask myself. At first sight, the setting may seem unspectacular. I’m in the cinema of the Museum Mobile of Audi – a place I’m already familiar with. As I discover the goggles, which may have come straight from a science fiction movie, I get really excited. What am I going to see? After all, this is how the technology behind the new Audi A8 will be presented to me today – the same way our brand’s flagship was presented to journalists at a TechDay in Mühlheim and driving event in Valencia. A true revolution.
Virtual exhibit: Experience the Audi A8 with the HoloLens
All around the world - for large exhibits, these journeys are not always possible. With virtual exhibits, Audi makes possible what seems to be impossible. Audi blog author Anna Niemann had the chance to test this technical innovation.
Explaining how the HoloLens works
For a very long time, exhibits have provided an excellent way to experience technology hands-on. They allow technical facts to be conveyed directly to drive, chassis or body components. With so-called virtual exhibits made possible by Microsoft’s HoloLens, Audi is the first automobile manufacturer to use the new data glasses in this way.
The HoloLens does not require a computer to create images and is therefore also wireless. In the spectacle frame, a mini computer is integrated, which forwards the content to two small displays. They transmit the images to four different lenses, which are then projected onto both eyes. Holograms, multimedia content or information thus appear in the user’s vision field. For this so-called CAD data, i.e. special technical 3D animations based on design data, have to be prepared for the goggles. Shortly after I put on the HoloLens, the chief technology officer of Audi Peter Mertens appears as a hologram in front of me, giving me a warm welcome. He really looks like he is standing in front of me, which gives me the feeling of being up close. The presenter, who is now explaining the various functions and possibilities of the HoloLens, points to the first station, the actual highlight: the new A8. Suddenly, it is standing right in front of me, in its entirety on a scale of 1:1. Now I am really impressed. The HoloLens really can make the virtual world a reality.
Augmented Reality equals Mixed Reality?
In contrast to Virtual Reality (VR), the bearer of the HoloLens does not completely dive into an optically and acoustically virtual computer world. Instead, the person continues to perceive the surroundings, experiencing an expanded reality, namely the Augmented Reality. This expansion of reality is also called mixed reality, as it is a fusion of the real and virtual world.
The moderator explains the different functions and sensors, including the central driver assistance system zFAS, on the basis of virtual exhibit. I move a few meters away from the vehicle. Now I am able to see in which area the laser scanner is currently active. The laser beam is actually invisible to us because it is in the infrared range. Through the animations in the glasses, this important technical detail of the A8 has become visible to my eye.
Virtual exhibit explains complex matters comprehensively
Particularly the presentation of the zFAS fascinates me, the heart of the piloted driving. This control unit permanently calculates a comprehensive image of the environment from the sensor data. Through an animation of red markers that sweep through the virtual interior of the car, I understand how the data flow works when the zFAS is active. My first conclusion: the virtual exhibit allows the explanation of much more complex facts, which would not be possible in such depth in a physical exhibit.
The HoloLens takes technology to a whole new level. Technical facts can be presented and explained in 3D animations directly on the vehicle. Right next to the A8 animation, I see a large virtual cockpit in front of me. I discover what the driver is shown in the mode of the traffic jam pilot and how it changes after its activation. Since this system is an absolute technical novelty and an important step towards automated driving, the detailed explanation is not only nice to have, but essential.
HoloLens transforms the Audi AI traffic jam pilot to an experience
Finally the white box I mentioned earlier comes into play. Thanks to my goggles, I’m standing in the middle of a three-dimensional city, with the scale 1:200. It looks like a toy world, but a really posh toy world. The goggles show a realistic traffic jam situation. Time for the new A8 to shine. In reality, that’s exactly the way it would be: Once the driver activates the traffic jam pilot with the AI button, he can permanently remove his foot from the pedal and his hands off the wheel. If the A8 travels in a column with a maximum speed of 60 km/h, the traffic jam pilot takes over on highways and multilane roads with a structural separation from the opposite track.
During a highly-automated ride, a camera checks if the driver is ready to take control of the steering again. For example, if the driver’s eyes remain closed for a long time, the system prompts him to resume the driving task. Then, a takeover request is made in three phases – from visual and acoustic warnings to emergency braking. Another animation shows what these sound like. A loud beep chimes – the request to take over the steering again. Only the goggles bearer goggles can hear these sounds. The HoloLens transmits the sound via loudspeakers, which are installed above the ears in the temples and therefore do not shield the ambient noise. Therefore, I can also have a conversation with others at the same time.
New possibilities for communication
The media form of mixed reality will enable the greatest diversity for digitization of Audi communication in the future. It offers a whole new possibility for the presentation of new models, exhibits or other technical processes. Due to the small size and weight, the glasses can be used in any occasion – a decisive advantage compared to a physical exhibit that can not be carried along to the other end of the world. It is even possible to store several applications in the glasses: this allows us to present the new A8 in Ingolstadt, while on the next day we can use the same glasses to explain the drivetrain in Valencia. The day after tomorrow, the same glasses enable us to invite journalists in Shanghai to a secret sneak preview on the new Audi A7 design. This makes Audi communication a pioneer in the field of virtual exhibits. This was also recognized by the jury of the Annual Multimedia Award, who rewarded the “Virtual exhibit” with silver in the area of digital special formats.
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