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How Epic Games Uses Unreal Engine to Power Human-Machine Interface in Electric Vehicles

By Jack Condon, Evangelist and Technical Account Manager at Epic Games Southeast Asia

Thais are becoming more familiar with gaming and electric vehicles (EV), with many e-sports events held across the country, and with the government aiming to turn the country into Southeast Asia's EVs hub within the next decade. But what do these two different sectors have in common, and how important do you think gaming technology is to electric vehicles?

The answer might surprise you, especially as it also involves that other great disruptor of our industry — the roadmap to autonomy.
When General Motors (GM) revealed its new all-electric Hummer, the supplier that was picked for special mention was Epic Games: developer and publisher of Fortnite — one of the world’s most popular online games). Epic’s Unreal Engine real-time graphics platform also powers the Human Machine Interface (HMI) in the new Hummer. Find out how the Hummer utilized the power of Unreal Engine in this video

It would be easy to look at this and see a snappily designed, graphics-rich user interface that’s there to grab attention. And that’s certainly part of why the technology was chosen, with increasingly large screens providing vast, seamless surfaces for the designers’ creativity. But the benefit that GM chose to highlight was more strategic: the ability to quickly develop ways for new systems — in this case electrification — to communicate with the driver.

Gaming technology solves several problems. The first of which is to work out how these new control areas should interact with the vehicle occupants. When you are deciding how to display information about state of charge and energy regeneration, or the location of hazards and the urgency of returning control to the driver, there are no decades of experience to call on. Game engines provide new freedom for designers searching for the most effective (and most engaging) ways to communicate this information, as well as a fast, efficient way to build and test each option to create Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) or support systems in which the driver can drive the vehicle more safely than conventional driving.

“Designers evolve the end product in real time, while engineers get on with their day jobs”

When one is chosen, the traditional development path is for engineers to code the software, leading to an iterative process where designers and ergonomists review the system, and engineers revise the code. Game developers work without these silos, so the best platforms are structured to allow designers to evolve the end-product in real time (design-driven development) quickly and efficiently, while engineers get on with their day jobs. The key features of Unreal Engine’s design-driven development can be seen here

But it isn’t just about new technologies: there is also the question of communicating brand values when your audience is used to consumer electronics with a much faster product refresh cycle. Stepping into your new car to find comic-book graphics hardly shouts ‘high-tech’.

One of the big German vehicle manufacturers recently committed to moving towards a single, company-wide vehicle model that begins its life with the earliest concepts and evolves seamlessly through engineering to marketing and manufacture — where the exact specification of the customers’ vehicle can be loaded into the HMI. When you glance down to see how your vehicle’s electrical system is harvesting energy as you slowdown, it will be your actual vehicle, in the correct colour and trim, with the wheels you chose. When it rotates, instead of the huge cost of creating motion like a flip blook, the image will be recalculated in real time as it turns, providing designers with total flexibility and superb visual quality.

“A future HMI must be configurable for the individual vehicle, customisable by each occupant and updateable through that vehicle’s life”

Which brings us to the next big step: over the air updates and cloud-based services. The technical roadmap for an HMI is surprisingly critical to the successful adoption not just of new vehicle technologies, but also of new revenue streams.

A mobile phone is the gateway to additional services and personalisation. But, in a vehicle, they can be so much more sophisticated. How about an augmented reality experience that conveys interesting facts and stories about landmarks that are highlighted as you pass?

We’ve mentioned three of the major disruptors — EV, ADAS, and cloud-based services — all of which will contribute more when implemented alongside a new generation of sophisticated HMIs. The clue is in the name: Human-Machine Interface. As vehicle technology and services evolve, the HMI is becoming the most powerful touch point between the products of our industry and our customers, with Unreal Engine helping to accelerate this development.

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