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As the Coronavirus Keeps Customers Away From Dealers, Volkswagen is Using 3D Technology to Display New Models

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【Summary】German automaker Volkswagen planned to display all of its new models and concept vehicles at last month's Geneva Motor Show to thousands of attendees. However, with the cancellation of the event due to the coronavirus outbreak, the company turned to a Canadian tech firm PureWeb to recreate its planned Geneva Motor Show display in immersive virtual reality (VR), so people can experience it online from anywhere in the world.

Eric Walz    Apr 20, 2020 2:00 PM PT
As the Coronavirus Keeps Customers Away From Dealers, Volkswagen is Using 3D Technology to Display New Models
Volkswagen's Geneva Motor Show display can be experienced online with a virtual 3D walkthrough.

The recent coronavirus pandemic has hit the auto industry hard. Automakers have shuttered their manufacturing plants and any dealers showrooms that remain open are void of customers resulting in plummeting auto sales worldwide.

The pandemic also resulted in the cancellation of the Geneva Motor Show in March, which is one of the world's biggest events for global automakers to show off new models to members of the automotive media and general public.

German automaker Volkswagen planned to display all of its new models and concept vehicles in Geneva to thousands of attendees. However, with the cancellation of the event, the company turned to a Canadian tech firm PureWeb to recreate its planned Geneva Motor Show display in immersive virtual reality (VR), so people can experience it online from anywhere in the world.

PureWeb, based in Calgary, offers a scalable and secure cloud streaming platform, allowing its customers to review, publish, and engage with real-time 3D applications such as VR through any web browser or mobile device. PureWeb's photorealistic 3D visualization technology is suitable for a wide variety of industries, including automotive, architecture and online real estate websites.

The interactive 360 virtual showroom was created by Berlin company Exozet and features 36 Volkswagen vehicles equipped with configurators to customize paint colors and wheel options. Pureweb's cloud-based technology is powering the virtual showroom. PureWeb allows companies like Volkswagen to offer a rich and immersive online experience.

Volkswagen replicated the planned physical exhibit in a 3D virtual walkthrough. The virtual reality experience allows users to virtually "walk through" Volkswagen's Geneva Motor Show display as if they were at the event, getting up close with the vehicles and selecting different color choices and wheel configurations. 

The VR experience includes music, multimedia screens, and a modern seating area. The walkthrough allows users to explore the entire Volkswagen showroom without leaving home and is part of the automaker's future digital strategy to entice tech-savvy car buyers.

The VR experience is powered on the backend by Amazon Web Services. PureWeb said it can publish its powerful interactive 3D creation technology to any device anywhere in a matter of weeks, which it did for Volkswagen.

"Exploiting the opportunities offered by virtual reality is part of our digitalization strategy," says Jochen Sengpiehl, chief marketing officer of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand. "It will become an integral component of our experience marketing, the entire external presentation of the brand and interaction with customers and fans."

The entire 30-frame-per-second virtual VW showroom was created in just three weeks. Volkswagen said it surpassed the expected physical attendance of the Geneva Motor Show.

"We are convinced that we will be able to reach even more people in future through virtual show visits in addition to the real presentation of vehicles," says Jürgen Stackmann, member of the Volkswagen brand Board of Management responsible for sales, marketing, and after-sales.

This mass distribution of the VR technology via the internet was made possible through PureWeb's streaming technology, which dynamically scales server allocation to accommodate large volumes in web traffic. 

PureWeb automatically assigns users multiple cloud-based GPUs for rendering the VR content, so they can run the processor intensive VR programs on devices without advanced graphics processors built in, such as mobile phones and tablets.

The Audi Visualization Engine

Volkswagen's luxury arm Audi was the first automaker to offer 3D visualization with its "Audi Visualization Engine", which launched as a pilot in July, 2018. It was intended to help buyers visualize different Audi vehicle models before they visit a dealer showroom.

Using Audi's Visualization Engine, customers are able to experience a 360 degree view of an Audi vehicle in real-time, directly on the company's website. The 3D application first launched in Germany and expanded to 24 additional countries worldwide as part of the pilot. However, it's not in the U.S. yet.

With the Audi Visualization Engine, customers could experience their custom-configured car very realistically, down to the smallest details. They could even turn on the headlights or open and close the doors. 

Another feature is the ability to display finely tuned details, such as the finish of materials and the opening and closing of the convertible roof. In addition, a custom-configured Audi model can be placed in different environments, such as a rugged landscape in Iceland, with just one click.

After an initial pilot of the real-time 3D configurator, Audi said that user engagement increased by 66% compared to a traditional 2D online configurator.

"Particularly when it comes to the individual equipment options, our new 3D visualization in the configurator provides customers with an extremely comprehensive, detailed image of the desired model and supports their purchasing decision," said Thomas Orenz, project manager for the Audi Visualization Engine said at the time of its release.

Similar to Volkswagen's VR program, The Audi models are rendered in real time on any device directly via the Audi website, with no need for an additional app or plug-in. The 3D application uses the same rendering techniques as those used in video games.

Future plans for Audi include upgrading the image quality to 4K resolution, adding additional country-specific environments for the vehicles and customizing it for local dealerships.

As people all over the world remain at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 3D technology allows automakers like Volkswagen and Audi to reach more customers. 

With the explosive growth of e-commerce, the immersive 3D technology is likely to become more common in the auto industry and an easier way for automakers to show off their new models and entice buyers in the digital age.

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