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Case Phiaro: Meet the World’s Most Versatile, Drivable Concept Car

With the use of cutting-edge mixed reality technology from Varjo and a state-of-the-art modular chassis, Phiaro has radically redefined the resources needed to produce a drivable concept car, massively accelerating automotive design and iterative prototyping.

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The barriers of entry to concept car production and experimental automotive design are immense

Concept car production and automotive prototyping require major investments, both financial and in terms of manpower. The process of developing from a sketch or a virtual 3D model to a physical, drivable vehicle is an expensive process, reserving the activity for top-tier automotive OEMs with the budget to spare.

Phiaro aimed to massively reduce the cost of turning 3D renders into full-scale, drivable prototypes

Concept cars are an ideal pre-production way for manufacturers to test experimental interior and exterior UX concepts. Often the best of these innovative changes end up as practical features in the road-ready vehicles we see around us today.

Phiaro knows all about the difficulty, time, and cost required to produce concept vehicles and conduct iterative prototyping; President and CEO, Teruhiko Iwasaki’s grandfather started off making wooden molds in Tokyo in the 1930s.

The group now produces their own concept cars and collaborates with major manufacturers, with office and factory locations in Japan, China, and the United States.

Early 2020, Phiaro began a project to drastically reduce the time and cost needed to put full-scale drivable concept cars on the tarmac.

They had already recognized the potential of virtual reality for viewing life-size static models of digitally designed vehicles from all angles. (In fact, many major automotive brands, including the likes of Kia and Volvo, are currently utilizing Varjo’s virtual and mixed reality headsets to visualize their designs in full-scale, by rendering life-sized photorealistic 3D models of cars into a room.)

But static was not enough, Phiaro wanted to drive this concept further and experience their designs in-motion. With stationary renders alone it is not possible to evaluate car interiors with scenery rushing by outside the windows, adapt vehicle ergonomics according to real-world driving scenarios, or test how well people could interact with cockpit controls whilst concentrating on the road ahead.

What if they could allow a driver to step inside the 3D rendered vehicle design and physically drive it down the road? What if the concept team could have a fully immersive experience of how their designs would feel first-hand?

How could Phiaro facilitate real-world driving experiences while simultaneously minimizing the expense of physical prototyping?

To get the project literally rolling,  they developed a stripped-down metal structure with only the core features required for actual guided locomotion, including a chassis, electric drive train, cable steering, seat, and four wheels. They also mounted the hardware required for an advanced inside-out positional tracking system on the vehicle, being developed in collaboration with Tokyo-based firm, LP-Research.

Phiaro used the Varjo’s Headset to combine a real-life video feed with 3D car renders designed within Unity or Unreal software, with the custom positional tracking. Users driving the physical base vehicle will see both the actual road (via the Varjo headset’s pass-through video feed) and the virtual 3D car interior, seamlessly merged together for a realistic first-person perspective within the headset’s viewfinder.

Footage captured through the Varjo headset showcases the seamlessly combined, physical and virtual, vehicle in motion

Varjo allows the base vehicle to act as a blank canvas, rapidly adaptable to various designs and experimental projects.

For the fundamental mixed reality component of the project, Phiaro harnessed the power of the Varjo’s HMD. The XR-3 is the most advanced, professionally-used, XR-capable headset on the market today. Differentiating itself from a standard virtual reality headset is the human-eye resolution and the inclusion of front-mounted cameras and LiDAR sensors, which allow the headset to pass through an ultra-low-latency 12-megapixel video feed of the outside world.

Augmented Reality Car

“We chose Varjo because in the mixed reality world, Varjo gave us the closest experience to reality.”

Pratim Dutta - Innovation Strategist, Phiaro

Designers can take their concepts from the screen to the road profoundly faster than ever before.

Virtual and mixed reality technology has only recently become mature enough to enable advanced projects such as this to become feasible. Varjo’s focus on providing the paramount in professional-grade photorealistic VR and XR experiences has evolved this project from a technical demonstration to an invaluable industrial design tool.

The malleability of the base vehicle, and the mixture of digital and physical elements, also designates the project as an experimental platform ideal for innovative simulated test scenarios. Examples include augmented visual overlays to simulate certain driving situations, adding haptic vibrations to physical controls, and user-testing optimal interior setups for autonomous driving solutions.

Phiaro has laid the foundation for automotive design teams to take advantage of cutting-edge virtual or mixed reality techniques. The in-motion, mixed reality setup, is a perfect demonstration of how creative use of Varjo’s hardware can revamp worklows and unlock unforeseen time and cost savings across multiple industries.

The NGDP vehicle earns its name as a 'Next Generation Development Platform'

The project, with a working title of NGDP1, has proven a revolutionary internal tool for Phiaro. It has however also generated major industry interest, with over 450 visitors from OEM and tier one suppliers coming to see a demonstration in 2020 alone.

The NGDP1 can currently only be driven in controlled conditions or on closed tracks, so don’t expect to see a headset-clad operator staring you down in your rear-view mirror just yet. But now that Varjo has developed human-eye resolution capable XR and VR hardware, and teams are ready to put the technology to the test, you should anticipate HMDs entering your workflows in the near future.

See behind the scenes by joining the webinar

If you are interested in the background and potential of this project, and the open playing field for groundbreaking uses of mixed and virtual reality, watch our on-demand webinar – ‘Building the World’s Most Versatile, Drivable Concept Car with Mixed Reality’. Join representatives from Phiaro, Varjo, and LP Research as they give an inside look at the project and answer audience questions live.

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