Imagine a car with your own customized AI assistant that can bring up a map with the nearest fuel stations at the touch of a button. What about one that can synchronize with traffic cameras to show what the weather looks like at your destination? Or stream live concerts, games, and the latest films as it drives itself?
Five ways in-car designs will change in the next five years
Soon, all this and more could become our new reality. It’s just a matter of time: From futureproof infotainment systems to smart cockpits, our in-car experiences are already getting more and more sophisticated. But creating the advanced HMIs that customers increasingly expect is a complex process.
For designers, it’s not just about developing a great display and putting it in a vehicle. An overly-distracting speedometer might seriously risk driver safety. A map without the right level of detail will make it easy to get lost. Plus, there’s the steering wheel to consider: one inch is all it takes to hide important information from sight.
Epic Games helps designers tackle these challenges while incorporating both style and functionality into every design. Since launching its HMI initiative back in 2020, the company has worked with carmakers like General Motors to open up the possibilities of what an in-car experience can look like. This isn’t just revolutionizing how cars feel to use today—it’s also paving the way for a future where our vehicles will increasingly interact with a virtual world.
Read on to learn how creating and experiencing in-car designs will change for the future, and what designers can do to prepare today.
In the past, engineers would typically program UI designs into an HMI with just a still image from a designer as a reference. Then, often, designers wouldn’t even get to see the final result until very late in the production process. This could cause a lot of stress if, for example, the font size looked too big and it was only noticed at the very last minute. With Unreal Engine, designers are able to work with engineers on the same platform. In the future, this will mean that engineers can put more energy into tasks like speech interfaces since designers don’t need them to make as many UI changes. This also gives designers the creative freedom to iterate through multiple decisions and see results in a day or two.
The world has recently been amazed by BMW’s color-changing car at CES. Within the next couple of years, you’ll be able to instantly change the look on the inside of your car, too. Just as you would buy a skin for your game, you’ll be able to buy skins for your car that will make it more customizable than ever. This means that manufacturers can create, or partner on, brand extensions that augment the HMI—like offering a Rolex skin for a luxury vehicle, for example. You could even have an HMI skin that represents your favorite sports team during the week of the Big Game, with team colors, gameplay animations, and real-time graphics that display the current score!
Thanks to a combination of sensor data and the ability to use the original CAD data, consumers are now seeing the first accurate digital representations of cars being displayed on an HMI. The world’s first commercially available electric pickup truck, Rivian’s R1T, is a groundbreaking example of this in action. The Rivian team used Unreal Engine to design an HMI interface that could render each vehicle based on its specific configuration including color, wheel, and trim. Thanks to camera sensors on the road, the interface could even display how the truck was positioned in relation to lane lines, helping drivers change lanes while pulling trailers with confidence. Soon, this technology will help everyone drive more safely.
Watts to Freedom technology, built for the new Hummer EV from General Motors, helps drivers experience a 0-60 sprint in a whole new way using an advanced HMI system designed with Unreal Engine. A double press of the traction control can now bring up a UI that will cause the whole truck to lower, then optimize its internal electronics and temperatures so that you can go as quickly as possible. The UI even coaches drivers through the best techniques to get the most thrilling head start. In the future, HMI designs will be able to interactively change your car around you, helping you enjoy the experience of driving a car in a whole new way.
Hardware in cars is now powerful enough to do ray tracing. Just as a computer’s hardware will help drive more powerful in-game graphics, a car’s hardware will unlock more impressive digital experiences through realistic rendering. Could the interior of a car be used for a concert, with lighting, the stereo, and incredible HMI screens to match? Current technology can make that experience happen. And with the advent of the Metaverse, drivers can experience it with their friends.