Mixed reality digital technologies in the automotive design process

Ondrej Dóci, Peter Olah, Miroslav Truben


It is likely that post-mechanical methods will continue to progressively gain ground in design. The idea as a result of design activities will be equivalent to a tangible product, and moreover, it may happen that this tendency will contribute to the dematerialization of the design process. Most design industries seek to reflect emerging innovations, technologies, or simply put, their present. Digitization, connectivity, and the rising attention to autonomous driving are changing not only the functionality and user experience in the interiors of today’s cars, but increasingly also the way we design them.

It is important that technological innovations are thoroughly examined, mainly so that the new discoveries may become useful tools. This could be achieved by a constant effort to implement innovations not only into design processes of designers. At present, doctoral research is being carried out at the Faculty of Architecture and Design, which deals with the implementation of reality distortion technologies into design processes. Therefore, this article aims to discuss these evolving technologies in design practice as well as analyse approaches and hypotheses that the authors are currently working on in their doctoral research.

Extended reality (XR), a relatively new development in most areas, is an emerging umbrella term given to all computer-generated environments that merge the physical and virtual worlds. According to a 2017 survey, more than a third of XR product companies concerned predict a 4 – 5 year timeframe till XR becomes mainstream. This means that in the next two years we will encounter more and more extended reality products, whether in the form of virtual, augmented, or mixed reality, or any other form of reality that such technology may bring. New extended reality technologies have the potential not only to spice up the final presentation of a work, but also to significantly influence the design methodology. However, this potential still contains a lot of unexplored aspects. The ways to use this technology in the design process requires deeper scientific knowledge, which should be based on practical experience from case studies.

The authors of the article explain the inspiration from the pillars of speculative design as one of the possible research approaches. Speculative design often considers emerging technologies as an object of interest, and at the same time uses them as a means of expression. The technologies are able materialize the theses of speculative and critical design, but can also become the object of interest to these design branches: with the aim to explore the so far undiscovered ways of using the technologies in a wide range of disciplines, or their potential development in the future. Design speculation can act as a catalyst for a collective reassessment of our relationship to reality. The article gives an example of applying such an approach. The topics of mixed reality and speculative design were partly covered in the diploma thesis of one of the article’s authors, Miroslav Truben, during his internship at Volkswagen’s interior design department. The relevant part of the article mainly describes the presentation model as the outcome of this diploma thesis.

Based on the experience from the professional design environment of car companies ŠKODA Auto and Volkswagen, the authors describe the current state of implementation of extended reality technologies into the design processes of designers. In the article they express the opinion that these technologies are further gaining the trust of automotive designers in product development, compared to physical reality. Step by step, they are finding their place in various specializations, where they replace physical designs/realizations, and even offer new possibilities both in research and in product development, or in their final outputs. They also offer a brief overview of examples that they consider worth mentioning in terms of the use of extended reality technologies.

At the end of the article, the authors describe their doctoral researches. In the automotive industry, mixed reality technologies are still used among designers, mainly in the projects’ final stages, for the purposes of presenting or simulating digital, intangible (non-physical) aspects of car design (lighting conditions, user interface, etc.). The authors work with the assumption, and they are not the only ones, that the potential of using these technologies extends deeper into the design processes. Application in a specific field, that is the interior design of a car, could bring more defined, usable results. The authors try to include methods of speculative design as well as other methods in their research. They are finding ways how to incorporate mixed reality technologies into designing car interiors and create case studies. These studies aim to provide measurable benefits for automotive interior design departments, whether in terms of time or material savings. Verification of the proposed spatial solutions and volumes starting already in the phase of initial design proposals could also bring significant gains in the academic environment for students working on their studio assignments. Finally, the authors of the article draw attention to the importance of keeping critical view over the application of extended reality technologies to design processes of designers. The studies published so far have not covered all the methods of using these technologies as a tool to support the creative process of designers, and therefore authors see importance to keep room for criticism regarding the usefulness and importance of applying these new methods in practice.

Keywords: augmented reality, automotive interior, design, speculative design, virtual reality