Fortnite developer Epic Games is working with automakers, starting with General Motors, to use the game development platform Unreal Engine to develop in-car software, which Epic calls the "Human Machine Interface" initiative (HMI). The first car to use Unreal Engine, the primary software toolset that developers use to create Fortnite and countless other big budget video games, will be GMC's upcoming Hummer EV, which will be unveiled on October 20th.
The logic is simple: modern cars are designed primarily with software, and assembled cars carry numerous on-board computers and rely on touchscreens and digital interfaces to power infotainment centers and other sources of information that are displayed to drivers. And Unreal Engine is a great platform for creating software, which Epic says is a great platform for creating the software for cars.
“When you are in the driver's seat of a modern car today, the way you interact with the vehicle is different than it was a few years ago. Buttons and screens dominate the dashboard, steering wheel, and instrument panel, offering features that may be new to you. Electrification is at the root of many of these advances. Digital hardware such as cameras, sensors and displays, together with the latest technology such as Unreal Engine, form a framework on which new experiences can be built, ”explains the company in a blog post. “At Epic Games we have long been interested in how the requirements for HMI development overlap with those for game development. Much of the functionality required to create HMI systems has been available in Unreal Engine for some time. "
Image: Epic Games
According to Epic, automakers like GMC and the user interface and user experience designers tasked with developing the software that car owners interact with in the finished product can do more, and faster, with tools like Unreal Engine. According to Epic, this should allow designers to play a more active role in developing the software.
“In conventional HMI workflows, UI / UX designers create“ hero screens ”or reference images that describe what the user interface should look like. They seldom see their designs in action early enough to repeat them because it is up to the engineers to implement the design and functionality into the vehicle, ”explains Epic. Unreal Engine is also a cross-platform game engine that allows designers to easily preview new builds in prototype vehicles on iOS or Android tablets without the duplication of effort by rebuilding the software to work on mobile devices.
Image: Epic Games
What does this mean for consumers using next generation car software developed with Unreal Engine? Epic says it is already making some pretty impressive advances. For example, infotainment screens created with the game engine can be up and running much faster as the Epic toolset allows developers to launch different pieces of software in sequential order rather than all at once. "Content that is not needed at startup can be loaded after the first startup, which further shortens startup time," says the company.
Because Unreal Engine is designed to allow photorealistic computer-generated graphics, the vehicle software can also display full, high-resolution renderings of the vehicle and its various internal and lower parts, as well as the mechanical and software mechanisms, on central screens and other displays.
"What if a car brand had their own games that only their vehicle users could access?"
"Unreal Engine provides premium graphics for the production HMI with automotive paint materials and reflections that give the vehicle the highest quality real-time graphics," says Epic. "A full suite of visual effects features, enhanced by game development, provide automotive designers with a robust set of tools to use when expressing their creativity in their HMI designs."
According to Epic, the work on software in the car and the partnership with General Motors is based on the prediction that one day autonomous vehicles will make driving less important than the activities you can do in the car when software drives it for you. Whether you are streaming videos, playing games, or using communications capabilities for voice and video calls, Epic is keen to position the Unreal Engine as a central pillar for building all of these features and functionality.
“What if a car brand had their own games that only their vehicle users could access? Or could drivers adapt their HMI graphics and voice assistant to the personality of their favorite video game character? “The company writes. "With Unreal Engine as the HMI platform, such possibilities become possible."