Virtual worlds are no longer the exclusive subject of video game designers. Audi uses the virtual simulation technique in many of the development processes of a new model, especially those of driving assistance systems, which culminate in autonomous driving.
Audi's virtual environment development engineer Andreas Kern steers his Audi A6 toward a road intersection, with a high-rise building blocking his front view. Suddenly, a double red arrow lights up on the instrumentation, accompanied by an insistent sound signal. The car is warning the driver of a potential danger: although it is not yet visible to the human eye, radar sensors have identified a car approaching the intersection from behind the building. The Audi can initiate braking well in advance, and prevent an accident.
All this is not happening in a real junction, but in the facilities of Audi Electronics Venture GmbH (AEV), where the most modern simulation techniques are used to recreate driving situations that are tested and integrated into the functions of the assistance systems. to driving. For this, the engineers use the device called Virtual Engineering Terminal (VET), in which they can carry out simulations of new developments still in the prototype phase.
At this time, for example, work is being done on the simulation of the intersection assistant, a predictive function not so far removed from its introduction in series models. The engineer moves a scale model over a large horizontal touch screen that presents a stylized version of the intersection situation and sensor activity. Moving the model also changes its representation on a 165 cm diagonal (65-inch) vertical monitor. It provides the user with a view of the Audi virtual cockpit and a computer-generated environment, which precisely adapts to movements.
Another specialist, Ralph Stock, watches the scene with intense attention. Stock, 47, has spent the past 30 years developing video games. As he moves the Audi model across the shiny surface, Kern drives a miniature truck toward the simulated intersection. Virtual sensors react immediately. The engineer comments on the benefits of developments with virtual tools: “Things get tricky when you have several self-driving cars in an intersection situation, as the test for a specific combination of positioning between the vehicles must be able to be reproduced with great precision. involved. That is why we will have to work much more in the future with virtual worlds ”.
And that's where video game designers come into the picture. Stock knows how the dialogue between different sectors interested in simulation has been perfected: "We are attractive to the automotive industry because we have been working with traffic simulations for a long time." Those developments form the basis for many games, and that experience is of great interest when it comes to high-precision simulations required by the automotive industry. The interactive installation of the Virtual Engineering Terminal also makes it possible to test new technologies such as autonomous parking in a properly equipped garage. The problem is that the connected systems are now extremely complex, too complex to be able to carry out tests with real cars.
“Our goal is to reduce the number of actual test drives, although we still need them,” explains Kern. “In autonomous driving, simulation is absolutely essential. It's the only way we can rehearse connected systems in a reproducible way over and over again. Testing under real conditions has been essential for a long time. But as we move forward, we can no longer represent in reality the myriad of possible driving situations. ” In this way, the collective knowledge of the world of video games and the automotive field is getting closer and closer.
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