Volvo Gets 'Gamey' with Info, Driver-Assist Warnings for Future EVs

Volvo partners with Fortnite producer Epic Games to provide real-time information safely and intuitively to drivers.

Epic Games' Unreal Engine graphics interface will be combined with Qualcomm’s third-gen Snapdragon Cockpit high-performance computing platform, allowing much faster processing. (Epic Games)

As vehicles gain more and more technology such as infotainment, advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and electrification, there’s a corresponding need for ways to display information safely and intuitively to drivers. In the process, dashboard and instrument panel displays have grown larger and augmented reality (AR) has been added to head-up displays (HUD) and in-dash screens to accommodate the surge of information being directed at drivers.

Volvo sees the next logical step in presenting information to drivers as one that many people use on a daily basis: videogame-style animation. The Sweden-based, Chinese-owned automaker has partnered with Epic Games to leverage the company’s Unreal Engine visualization tool for “rendering real-time graphics” for in-vehicle HMI and other features.

Lifelike 3D graphics

Graphics created by Epic Games Unreal Engine technology will be displayed on the Driver Information Module in Volvo EVs. (Volvo)

Epic’s Unreal Engine technology is responsible for the lifelike 3D graphics in the popular videogame Fortnite and realistic CGI effects in movies like The Mandalorian. Now it will be used in Volvo vehicles with the automaker’s Driver Information Module (DIM) to “provide the driver with relevant information and infotainment features,” according to Volvo.

The first vehicle that will get the Unreal Engine-powered graphics interface is the new electric flagship SUV Volvo plans to debut later this year. The technology then will migrate to the company’s other EVs as it moves to an all-electric lineup by 2030. “Unreal Engine will be instrumental in advancing key areas of technology within new Volvo cars,” Thomas Stovicek, head of user experience for Volvo Cars, told SAE Media in an email.

In addition to infotainment, Volvo foresees the addition of Unreal Engine-enabled graphics to support advanced displays for features such as ADAS and even communications with other vehicles and the traffic infrastructure. Stovicek said Volvo hopes the partnership would improve driver-assistance and visualization technologies to provide "richer layers of information" to the driver without the "additional distraction or stress" that comes with repeated notifications from the vehicle.

Stovicek added that Volvo’s forthcoming flagship EV will come standard with a state-of-the-art sensor suite consisting of five radars, eight cameras, 16 ultrasonic sensors and lidar, with info fed to the DIM. “With the help of Unreal Engine, Volvo developers could potentially create photoreal visuals inside the car in real-time based on input from those sensors,” Stovicek said.

Enhanced blind-spot detection, obstacles in low-visibility situations and driver’s eyes on the road are some of the aspects being considered as part of the ADAS systems, he added. “That means eventually Volvo drivers could see in real time what the car is seeing through its sensor set when their Volvo is in unsupervised autonomous driving – all presented in high-fidelity 3D visualization,” he said.

Snapdragon and software powered

The Unreal Engine graphics interface will be combined with Qualcomm’s third-generation Snapdragon Cockpit high-performance computing platform. According to Volvo, this will allow its next-generation infotainment system to “be more than twice as fast as its predecessor,” while graphics generation and processing inside the cabin “will be up to 10 times faster.”

Along with the new Unreal Engine capability and faster in-car computing and processing, Volvo will grow its internal software expertise to allow developers to create software-based, safety-focused technology, the company said. To speed development of the new graphics platform, Volvo is investing in software development and expects that half of all software in its vehicles will be produced in-house by 2025.

“We are ramping up hiring of developers and designers that can make use of this and other technologies that will help improve the customer experience of the HMI,” Stovicek said. The company hopes to aggressively recruit coding talent “to work on exciting and groundbreaking new in-car applications and platforms.”

Volvo isn’t the first automaker to use Unreal Engine. The new GMC Hummer EV uses software built with Unreal Engine to power its dashboard infotainment and instrument-cluster displays and provide photorealistic visualizations and lifelike animation. But the Volvo partnership is the first time Epic Games has collaborated with a European vehicle manufacturer on an HMI project.