Of Illusions
and Virtual Worlds

Opel Invests in Design Center


Opel is increasing its design capacities at the headquarters in Rüsselsheim. The company has invested €11 million in enhancing the design center in the N10 tract with cutting-edge visualization and communication technologies. The project, which also involves creating workspaces for 80 new specialists, is slated for completion in June 2017.

 

 

Whenever you read a novel or go see a play, you’re transported to another world, one shaped by characters, settings, and plots created by authors and directors. You willingly suspend your disbelief and fully immerse yourself in this artificial reality, as countless readers and theatergoers have done for centuries before you. These kinds of artificial realities are traditional, and experiencing them is embedded in your cultural history. What about new kinds of virtual realities, though? What if, for instance, you could enter a program sequence and alter it from within instead of passively experiencing it from the outside? What if you could move around in another, virtual world and shape it as you pleased?

 

VIRTUAL REALITY LETS YOU BECOME AN ACTOR
These kinds of scenarios are Torsten Steinborn’s bread and butter: He’s Opel’s Manager of VR and IT Strategy. “VR stands for ‘virtual reality,’” Steinborn says, and explains: “Virtual realities are simulated models of reality made using computer technology. They’re also interactive, unlike traditional artificial realities.” We visited the VR room in Building Complex N10 in Rüsselsheim, Germany, to find out what it’s like to interact with these virtual realities in practice.

 

DIMMED LIGHTS AND 22 LOUNGE CHAIRS
On the inside, the VR room looks like a sophisticated private movie theater, one where the heads of major Hollywood studios once viewed the first cuts of their blockbuster productions. The lights are dimmed, and the space is filled with 22 lounge chairs, massive screens, and a number of computer stations. Designers, engineers, and board members often gather here. Instead of discussing films, they focus on cars – especially ones that haven’t yet been built. “We create visual simulations to display vehicles, or sometimes just new model ideas and sketches, on the computer,” says Steinborn.

 


20080104 06 VR Raum GME N10 with projection

The existing VR room: Depictions appear on two screens, each of which is six meters wide and 2.5 meters high. Image resolution is four times sharper than that of conventional TVs – this insane pixilation is known as Ultra HD, and it offers significantly increased color space and resolution. “This lets us depict even the smallest gaps and joints – down to the millimeter – so that they’re visible to the human eye,” explains Torsten Steinborn.

 


2004 4-sided Cave

Cave action: What happens when the driver suddenly, greatly accelerates during a test drive on the street? How does this affect the vehicle interior? What do you see both outside and inside the car when you suddenly turn to the left, or when you look for a certain song on the dashboard display? Cave projects provide the answers to these questions in real-time.

 

Die technische IT-Infrastruktur des Raums ermöglicht es, Akteuren von anderen Standorten aus an den Meetings teilzunehmen, Daten auszutauschen und gemeinsam zu nutzen. Man tüftelt an den Leinwänden am CAD-Entwurf eines neuen Modells, verschiebt, verfeinert, spielt mit Größe, Form und Farben. „Dieser Raum“, sagt Steinborn, „ist bei den Kreativen unseres Unternehmens enorm gefragt und täglich von morgens bis abends lückenlos ausgebucht.“ Daher erhält Opel am Standort Rüsselsheim einen weiteren VR-Raum, er soll dem ersten ähneln, aber mit drei statt zwei Leinwänden ausgestattet sein.

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“The ‘Cave’ is set up to work like a flight simulator
or a computer game.”

 Torsten Steinborn, VR expert

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The new VR room will be built as part of a greater expansion project. Opel invested €11 million in expanding visualization and communication technologies at the design center at company headquarters. This expansion is slated for completion in June 2017. In addition to the second VR room, Opel will build a kind of dark room where people will not only be able to see virtual realities on screens, but also be able to completely immerse themselves within. This roughly five square-meter space is called the ‘Cave,’ which is short for ‘Cave Automatic Virtual Environment.’


New VizCenter Bauschild

 


 

Looking ahead into the future: Head of Design Mark Adams (right) explains what kinds of opportunities the new visualization center will provide to GM Executive Vice President & President Europe Dr. Karl-Thomas Neumann (left) and Deputy Works Council Chairman Uwe Baum (second from right).

 

 

 “The ‘Cave’ is set up to work like a flight simulator or a computer game,” says VR expert Torsten Steinborn. Inside, projections create a three-dimensional artificial world for users to interact with. “This lets users explore a car’s interior from the driver’s perspective, for instance, and simultaneously navigate the vehicle through traffic and test and validate features that are currently in development, such as the dashboard, air conditioning, and navigational system.” This virtual reality is stunningly realistic, since it fills up the space, boasts high-resolution graphics, and constantly adapts to the user’s actions.

 

50 HIGH-END COMPUTERS GIVE THEIR ALL
30 projectors inside the Cave construct this virtual reality by continually beaming images onto five screens. These images are processed by unbelievably powerful IT equipment composed of around 50 high-end computers. Individual team members can follow – and influence – CAD data being presented in the Cave from any company location. According to Steinborn, the virtual reality becomes even more authentic “as soon as an employee actually sits in the Cave and acts like they’re driving a car while holding items such as a steering wheel or gear shift in their hands. With these physical items, the experience becomes an amazingly realistic illusion.”

 

CREATIVE, EFFICIENT, BOLD
The test results are no illusion, though. “The data gathered in the Cave helps our creative specialists make development and validation processes faster and more efficient,” says Steinborn. “This data also lets us test the practical viability of bolder concepts. Opel’s high-tech expansion will keep benefitting the company in the long term.”

 


Opel Is Increasing Its Design Capacities Here



 

Text: Andreas Wollny, Photos: Alexander Heimann, Opel