Hyundai’s bluff for designing its cars around the world

VR allows studios in Korea, the US, China and Europe to collaborate on the same project, playing with distances and time differences. Explanation with the example of the Seven concept, which foreshadows the future Ionic 7 model expected on our roads next year.

Having the right to visit a manufacturer’s design studio is not for everyone. But instead of seeing concept cars, clay models of future models or walls of drawings, at Hyundai Europe near Frankfurt we were treated to a real tour through a…virtual world. Kind of metaverse in design mode, as it takes on a new dimension with the Korean manufacturer.

“The dedesign has been Hyundai’s main purchase criterion for a number of years,” explains Thomas Bürkle, designer in charge of the European studio. This ex-BMW has been here since 2005, running a studio that has grown from 10 people to now 70, signing series models such as the i10, i30, Tucson, Santa Fe, N-labelled sports models, as well as a dozen show cars.

Big fan of the Citroën SM, the German is far from being digital-native but he appreciates the possibilities offered by new technologies that he presents to us together with Simon Loasby (Vice President at the head of Hyundai Styling), yet 10,000 km from Germany, in Korea.

A closeness despite the distance they use in their daily work, as if they are literally discussing the details of a bumper or a dashboard side by side. ‘Designers cheat a lot’ laughs T. Burkle. And precisely to keep up with industrial reality, the development models must be extremely accurate, without forgetting, however, to be as beautiful as possible.

Until recently, the techniques of design studios went through the stages of classical sketches by hand, then small scale models to visualize the different projects in three dimensions, followed for the lucky ones by scale models of scale 1. A long and expensive job for heavy (2, 5 tons) and fragile models to be brought to the different studios of the brand to get the opinions of the different teams and, crucial step, the validation of the cartridges.

Hyundai's bluff trick for designing cars around the world

Then the “clay model” is scanned to begin work on the digital data for industrialization. But that was before the arrival of the 3D visualization studios that have equipped the brand since 2015. This allowed 80% of the design process to be done digitally. That is a good thing with the arrival of the pandemic, a period in which the Seven concept was developed in very close cooperation between Germany and Korea.

“It is not aboutace so muchreduce development time that of find the maturity of the design ratherthink about the interior at an earlier stage”, explains T. Burkle. Arguments are also better coordination of activities, more creativity, lower costs (-15%), less material waste and a CO footprint.2 less travel, even if it’s a somewhat more anecdotal argument on the scale of a carmaker whose group produced more than 6 million cars in 2021.

Virtual XXL Garage

We enter a huge space of 20 x 22 m, which has been set up for this purpose from 2017, with an investment of 1.5 million euros. A huge wall of 8K LEDs 6.5m wide allows an initial visualization of the model before equipping itself for 3D visualization.

Forty-eight Optitrack cameras are spread throughout the studio to ensure the positioning of each participant, with an ultra-accurate active tracking system. 10 people can simultaneously stand around a projected car in front of them, equipped with an HP Reverb 2 virtual reality headset and HP on-board computer with Nvidia 2080 in a backpack that forms a great armor.

Once rested, we enter a virtual world in which it takes some getting used to before we feel at ease. The Seven concept is there, for us, full size and walking around the model takes time to adapt. The other journalists are visualized by avatars, as is Simon Loasby who gives us a tour of the owner.

At 2,200 pixels wide per eye, the definition remains relatively grainy, while small jitters sometimes appear in the image when you turn your head. Nevertheless, an impressive display, which gets better as you approach. There, the painting of the virtual concept reveals all its subtleties and refines every detail.

Different environments can be projected to tune the car from which to choose. For lack of any more realistic sensations? Hyundai teams are working on developing gloves to get a sense of touch.

Hyundai's bluff trick for designing cars around the world

Photos of the brand’s bosses wearing this outfit on their dark suits make them look like strange bugs, but beware, this outfit is where crucial decisions are now being made, in this kind of design metaverse. Simon Loasby always carries with him a complete kit that you can immerse yourself in, which he calls his James Bond kit: an anonymous backpack that carries the computer and helmet, and which he can use to do a design review in an airport Starbucks!

The modeled interior

For the development of the interior, the designers use a different system with mixed reality technology. The Vario XR-3 helmets are equipped with cameras to visualize the environment around the car (easily materialized by seats) and, for example, to be able to see the people around or insert different environments. With Vive Pro controllers you can intervene on various elements of the interior, such as opening a storage room or a door for example.

Again, the image remains grainy, but let’s not forget that this is a working tool with a focus on materials and the speed of their change in the system to test different solutions. This is not data in the form of polygons as in games, but direct NURBS (data that is already ready for construction) that is used by the Autodesk VRED software.

Enough to move forward as quickly as possible in translating the Concept Seven to a production car, as the resulting Ionic 7 electric SUV is expected on our roads by mid-2023. Based on the Korean group’s 100% electric platform called e-GMP, it is a very livable large SUV (and equipped with antibacterial materials), with a gigantic 3.20 m wheelbase.

It will have an assertive design, as the Ionic models tend to stay close to the concepts they announce, even if the latter are very… conceptual. Meanwhile, the real tough concept car presented at the Los Angeles show last year is still in the US. We haven’t seen it in real life yet, but we already know it well in virtual mode, like many of the brand’s 600 or so designers from around the world.

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