Last week the Unreal Build: Automotive 2021, an event that was first hosted in 2017, was held online. During the Conference, companies collaborating with automotive giants presented some bleeding-edge technology applications that promise to revolutionise the user experience, marketing, processes, data, and KPI collection in the industry. At the base of all this is the Unreal Engine.
Definitely well-known by millennials and GenZ, probably less by others, the Unreal Engine is, in fact, born from Epic Games as a videogame engine at the end of the 90s. Since then, it has been used to develop countless titles, and crucially, 3D Graphic content in a range of different fields.
MHP is a German consultancy owned at 81.8% by Porsche that focuses on Automotive IT services and innovation.
Mostly in the last decade, luxury automotive has seen the rising trend of personalisation. It has become crucially important and extensive tailor-made programs turned into a necessity for luxury automakers to complement their products and define the customer experience it is expected from such them today.
While modern automotive ateliers are refined places, where clients can review a huge variety of fabrics, material samples, and hues for the cars’ bodywork paint, there is an obvious issue with this process. Dealerships will not have the actual product the client wants to showcase. At best, the same model with a different specification. This is even more relevant for OEMs that produce an extremely limited volume of cars such as Pagani, Koenigsegg, and Bugatti.
Pretty much all the modern luxury automakers nowadays have a car configurator to bypass this obstacle. This can come in different versions. A basic one, built in the companies’ websites which is useful for new models, or first-time buyers to get an idea of what to expect but also available to anyone. And a more in-depth one, which is used by employees in dealerships, ateliers, or other specialised departments where the personalisation can really get to the smallest detail.
So, what are the limitations of this model? How can it be improved and what’s the next step?
Here’s when MHP and Unreal Engine come in. As said by the Senior Consultant at MHP:
“Because every single vehicle is built exclusively for a customer, the retailers don’t have the physical cars available in the stores. We had to develop a solution that is visually appealing, photorealistic, and provides this immersive feel, all inside of an Unreal Engine-based application.”
This experience was enabled by the evolution of the Unreal Engine and especially by the addition of ray tracing. This graphic rendering technique simulates the behaviour of light in an environment and when recursive it even replicates the effects caused by light refraction, reflection, absorption, and fluorescence hitting different materials. This last step effectively achieved photorealism.
The video below is a quick demonstration of the Pagani configurator capabilities only in its lighter version that you can try out at the link at the end of the page:
The importance of this new application is that along with being aesthetically superior, it will not just be limited to the configurator. MHP transformed a “Point-of-sales application into a flexible rendering backend”.
This means that along with the retail configurator, and differently from other similar applications, the new platform can be used as a streaming configurator, or to generate high-quality images, videos, and other digital content and giveaways on demand. In turn, this availability will make for a more immersive customer experience, a closer connection with the brand, and limit the costs as everything can be managed by the same application.
Another noteworthy achievement is the creation of configurable videos. Posing the client’s personalised car into a digital environment allows seeing a realistic rendering of it in different settings (those who have been to the Pagani museum in San Cesario sul Panaro will recognise the extremely accurate setting reproduced in the configurator and visible in the video above), times, and weathers. Also, along with a specialised crew, MHP shot a film around the Imola racetrack in Italy. Here, the subject, a Pagani car, can be swapped or modified according to the clients’ requirements to see the actual vehicle's appearance in real surroundings making the experience much deeper and overall better.
According to Pascal Bayer, Application Architect at MHP, this system based on Unreal Engine is structured as a modular service that can cater to different needs all from this single source. This connects the different application interfaces used for each service and importantly, also allowed for the integration of analytics and CRM tools.
Certainly, an important development, as mentioned before, is the potential for a real-time content distribution system, set up on the cloud. An on-demand rendering system accessible from a cloud service to directly export footage and images can be a powerful marketing tool as well.
The evolutions and applications of this technology in the coming years could be countless. One above all that has been growing fast in different industries is the use of VR. While not present at the moment for this platform, developers claim it will certainly be with future versions.
Other noteworthy use cases, some of them already present or in development, are:
User experience with infotainment systems
Ads and live-action CGI Integrations and other marketing content
Integrations with Pixel Streaming Services by Google
Integrations for AR, VR, XR
To give further insights on the applications and processes that can integrate the Unreal Engine technology, here are some great infographics provided during the conference.
For new generations, this digital integration will also be expected as part of an increasingly personalised customer service.
Check the link below if you’d like to try the Pagani-MHP configurator (in its lighter version):
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