In the virtual centre you can touch cars that don’t exist

In the virtual centre you can touch cars that don’t exist

Škoda has opened a new Virtual Development Centre. This will be a great help for new car development, because it enables the developers to experience and get the feel of initial ideas. Take a look inside.

19. 1. 2024 Škoda World

Škoda Storyboard has experienced first-hand what the Virtual Development Centre makes possible. Perhaps paradoxically, for the average visitor the centre’s largest workplace, a large hall that can be divided (and acoustically separated) into two smaller ones if necessary, is the least interesting. Here there are two giant 8K resolution screens and special lighting to simulate any lighting conditions, including a sunny day. The minimalist, austere space is deliberately conceived in this way so that, whether on screen or on the turntable, the car under development stands out as much as possible.

In the main hall, you can view two prototypes of the car at virtually any stage of development and compare the prototypes with virtual models on large screens.

Here, developers can evaluate the car body surfaces and compare prototypes with what they see on virtual models. Real decisions are made about the shape of the future car in this space. The main advantage of digitalisation is that it just takes a second to switch between trim levels and different cars in the same position and immediately see the differences between the current version of a car and its “successor”, for example. The aim is to refine expectations during development and improve the result by making the transfer from virtual models to real ones more effective. This will speed up the development of upcoming models.

Touch a non-existent interior

Another workplace, again combining physical car prototypes with virtual and augmented reality, is designed primarily for interior work. “This is where all the creative discussions take place at all stages of the project and with all the departments involved,” says Jan Bečvařík, who is responsible for the execution of investment plans in technical development. In virtual reality, or also in a rough mock-up of the interior, sitting in a seat with virtual glasses on our heads, we can look around the future car’s interior and examine it from every conceivable angle. The combination with the rough model allows us, for example, to explore ergonomics and literally feel the future interior, which need not exist as a physical model.

The Virtual Development Centre allows you to explore the exterior and interior models in detail in virtual reality.

To evaluate specific details of the ergonomics of the car’s handling, the Virtual Development Centre has a dedicated project hub designed to test the user experience. There is also a special simulator that projects a route, with traffic, on three screens in front of the driver. The driver in the simulator, which corresponds to the car or solution being developed (for example, you can work on the infotainment user interface here), is then given tasks to perform while driving. This may be an instruction to change the interior temperature setting, to find a menu item, and so on. All the while, the developers keep track of how much attention the driver has to devote to the task and how it affects his ability to drive. The aim, of course, is to keep driver distraction to a minimum.

It also includes a project hub to test the user experience. On a special simulator, the driver performs specified tasks and the developers measure how this affects his attention.

The feeling of being “behind the wheel” of a simulator like this is really special. “Some people may find the experience of moving on the screen in front of them a little uncomfortable, so we have to select test subjects accordingly,” says Bečvařík. Working in the simulator takes a bit of getting used to – for example, the car controls are a bit more sensitive than they appear to be in reality, but it’s more about matching your expectations with the simulator’s capabilities. Once you’ve got used to that, then it’s quite pleasant to drive. 

DST8796_-copy_49911d7b Jan Bečvařík
head of planning and coordination at Škoda

Tested on Škodians

Škoda mainly uses its employees, taken from any and all the company’s departments, as test subjects. They thus represent a sample of ordinary car users and help to fine-tune the car so that it handles as well as possible for everyone. Although sitting in the simulator, where the driver’s eye movements are monitored by special glasses (and everything, including the driving trajectory, is converted into in charts and compared with the ideal), looks like fun, it’s an extremely responsible and time-consuming job. Just perfecting the car’s infotainment UI took weeks of preparation and testing.

The simulator for testing the user experience consists of a prototype car and the solution being developed, computers and screens that project the traffic. 

The fourth workplace, where developers can test pretty much any interior configuration, is also a great experience. There’s a special modular frame that allows the seats, dashboard, pedals, steering wheel and other elements of the car’s interior to be placed in virtually any position. Then, with the help of virtual reality goggles, anyone can explore the entire layout as the designers proposed it, with the added benefit of being able to sit in the actual seats in the position where they should actually be. The sensation of walking around a virtual model of a car – you can’t physically grab the door handle yet, but you sit in real seats – is truly special. Here, for example, you can test how easy it will be to load luggage into the car or explore whether everything is within easy reach or not. After a while it becomes second nature, and wearing the goggles we have to be careful to distinguish between what we can actually feel and what is only a virtual representation for now.

The interior layout testing station can test things like how comfortable the future car will be for loading luggage. 

And that’s what the Virtual Development Center is all about. It breaks down the boundaries between the virtual and real worlds, speeds up development and saves money on prototypes. It lets you experience a car much sooner than was previously possible. This allows any modifications, of which there are thousands during the development process, to be addressed in a timely manner.