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Volvo Cars and Varjo Announce World’s First Mixed Reality Application for Car Development

The future of car development is here: Volvo Cars and Varjo, the Finnish maker of high-end augmented reality headsets, have created a world-first mixed reality approach to evaluating prototypes, designs, and active safety technologies.

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Volvo Cars and Varjo have announced a world first application for automobile development using the Varjo XR-1 mixed reality headset. As discussed with Architosh a few months ago, when Varjo began working on the development of what would become the world’s first VR headset with “human-eye” resolution, the company initially started with and wanted to master a true mixed reality device. That day has finally arrived with the new XR-1 Developer Edition. (see: Architosh, “Varjo Announces Groundbreaking Mixed Reality Headset—XR-1 Developer Edition,” 29 May 2019).

XR-1 Enables World First—Test Drive Real Cars Wearing MR Headset

The collaboration will be further strengthened by the Volvo Cars Tech Fund’s decision to invest in Varjo. The Tech Fund is the car maker’s venture capital fund which invests in high-potential technology start-ups. Volvo Cars and Varjo have made it possible for the first time to drive a real car while wearing a mixed reality headset, seamlessly adding virtual elements or complete features that seem real to both the driver and the car’s sensors, for development purposes. Until now, no other car maker has been able to do this.

Volvo and Varjo set a world first with the ability to drive a real car with the driver wearing an MX headset device in Varjo XR-1, combining the real in the virtual for never-before car design testing.

The Varjo XR-1 headset, launched today, provides photorealistic mixed or virtual reality at a high-definition resolution better than anything currently available. As such, the XR-1 can radically reduce development timeframes by creating the new ability to evaluate features and designs almost immediately.

 

 

With this mixed reality approach, we can start evaluating designs and technologies while they are literally still on the drawing board.

 

 

Compared to its predecessor, the XR-1 adds high-definition cameras to the headset and enables mixed reality. This allows Volvo Cars designers and engineers to ‘drive’ future cars and evaluate all features in a simulation environment many years before they exist, enabling the company to develop the safest cars with the most refined user experience possible.

Volvo designer and engineers working with the Varjo XR-1 Developer Edition headset while testing car development technologies.

“With this mixed reality approach, we can start evaluating designs and technologies while they are literally still on the drawing board,” said Henrik Green, chief technology officer at Volvo Cars. “Instead of the usual static way of evaluating new products and ideas, we can test concepts on the road immediately. This approach offers considerable potential cost savings by identifying priorities and clearing bottlenecks much earlier in the design and development process.”

The XR-1 also allows Volvo Cars engineers to develop and evaluate active safety solutions much easier. Safety experts are able to drive real cars while wearing the XR-1 headset at Volvo’s research facilities in Sweden, testing virtual active safety systems imposed via augmented reality on the real-life environment.

 

 

The incredibly advanced ways in which Volvo Cars uses the XR-1 show that Varjo’s technology enables things that have been previously impossible. Together with Volvo, we have started a new era in professional mixed reality.

 

 

Highly accurate eye-tracking technology embedded inside the XR-1 makes it easy to assess how drivers use a new functionality and whether they are distracted in any way. This technology-based approach to measuring distraction levels ensures that Volvo Cars can develop new features without causing additional distraction.

Volvo can test virtual concepts during actual driving and the XR-1’s eye-tracking technology can evaluate how the driver’s visual focus reacts on new car features in the cockpit and elsewhere.

“From the very beginning, our vision has been to create a product that can seamlessly merge the real and the virtual together,” said Niko Eiden, founder, and CEO of Varjo. “The incredibly advanced ways in which Volvo Cars uses the XR-1 show that Varjo’s technology enables things that have been previously impossible. Together with Volvo, we have started a new era in professional mixed reality.”

Volvo Cars is a trailblazer within the car industry in using augmented and virtual reality in its design and development work. The partnership with Varjo is the latest and most advanced manifestation of the company’s strong position in this area. Volvo Cars believe in the power of smart partnerships with leading tech companies to develop next-generation technologies.

The XR-1 works with the integration of a front-plate with dual 12-megapixel cameras over the human-eye resolution VR-1 headset.

“Varjo is a clear leader in its field,” says Zaki Fasihuddin, CEO of the Volvo Cars Tech Fund. “The company’s technology promises a lot for the future, but also offers clear applications already today for Volvo Cars. Varjo is a textbook example of the type of companies we seek to invest in.”

The Varjo XR-1 headset and Volvo Cars’ application of the technology are demonstrated as of today at the Augmented Reality World Expo in Santa Clara, California. A patent has been filed for the application of the technology.

To learn more visit Varjo online. 

To learn more about Volvo Cars visit here.

Architosh Analysis and Commentary

One of the things we learned a few months ago when we interviewed co-founder Urho Kontorri, was that the company from the very beginning was most interested in delivering a mixed reality device but as they approached their earliest potential customers they were told to rush ahead on the human-eye resolution VR solution first. Companies told them they immediately saw a powerful business case in VR technology with a resolution near the human-eye—or 50x more sharp than the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.

Their patented technology for their human-eye resolution was dubbed the Varjo Bionic Display. But that technology was just one of a few industry-leading firsts and its 20/20 eye-tracking is so accurate it meets the demanding requirements of fighter pilot training and flight simulation. In fact, it appears that the eye-tracking technology is equally useful and critical for Volvo. The company can evaluate the test driver’s eyes and where they are looking (or focused) in response to “situational events” while driving and the various Volvo safety and warning systems and UX (user-experience) capabilities that the company is testing. Eye-tracking data can then be used fine-tune new instrumentation designs and other car features.

This eye-tracking feature could also be useful for architecture. Architects could evaluate how designs provide clarity or confusion with respect to both general wayfinding through buildings and urban environments but also in egress under an emergency event. Such eye-capture data could also be coupled with user-response data about urban environments and the perception of safety and wayfinding. 

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