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Design and technology are inextricably linked throughout the process of creating a Jaguar. And with the growing capabilities of virtual technology, that link is set to grow even stronger. Here, we talk to Brian Waterfield, Virtual Reality & High-End Visualisation Technical Lead - one of the people at the heart of our virtual reality testing programme. How does the virtual world help to create the excitement of a Jaguar design?

Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a bit about the Virtual Innovation Centre which evolved out of the VR centre that you built back in 2007.

Jaguar’s Virtual Innovation Centre is a bespoke 3D resource which creates 3D prototypes for engineers and designers to analyse, without the need for physical models. The centrepiece of the facility is the Virtual Reality Cave where 3D high-definition images of cars, or parts of them, are loaded onto three walls and the ceiling, either as nearly photorealistic images or CAD models. You can move the car in any direction, dismantle it, climb inside and even cut sections through it.

What kind of technologies do you use now?

At the moment, we’re looking at head-mounted displays very closely, things like the Vive and Oculus Rift, as well as portable tools like Samsung Gear, plus the Virtual Cave, optical tracking and haptic technology. We work with local suppliers and have 4k screens, 3D screens, the latest switching gear and audio gear. It’s all about creating as detailed a virtual picture as possible.

What advances are you looking forward to at the moment?

One thing we’re looking at closely is how sensory immersion works. As you can imagine, most of us see or hear things first – so we’re researching how to use those different senses within the virtual world; how do they combine, how do they make people react, how do they influence you? We’re really trying to push those boundaries.

The more you immerse your senses, the closer you get to a ‘real world’ encounter. So we need to replicate that in the virtual world to experience our products as fully as possible before they become physical. There’s still a long way to go – we basically need to understand who we are, which nobody has quite done yet!

What journey does a car take through virtual reality testing? How is it different to the traditional route?

Traditionally, you’d start with a designer working to a set of requirements based on what the market wants. They would sketch something up and then create a clay model, probably at 40% life size. Then after five or six alternatives, they’d be working with maybe two different options. Whilst making these clays the design would be put into Computer Aided Design (CAD), and then they’d move forwards to engineering from there.

But today, we can mix the virtual world into our design process. Our designers have Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality tools – so as soon as the designer has a concept, he’ll put it into CAD. As soon as that data has been created, the designer can immerse himself in that model straightaway, and he can start to understand the customer experience. So the process gets, I wouldn’t say quicker, but it gives our designers more time and more experiences of the car. Virtual Reality offers designers exciting opportunities to experience and understand the products at an earlier stage. They can do more in the virtual world, which excites them.

So does working in the virtual world give you more flexibility?

Yes - when you’re only working with physical means, you can only build so many physical models. In the virtual world, you can just keep building and building. So it offers designers more alternatives and more options.

What’s the difference between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality?

Virtual Reality is when everything is virtual, and you’ve got no real physical elements. You’re really cutting yourself off from what we know is physical. In Augmented Reality, it’s a mixture; you augment the virtual onto the physical reality. You add in data into the real world.

We don’t use Augmented Reality as much as Virtual Reality at the moment. We think that Augmented Reality will overtake Virtual Reality based on what it allows us to do. For example, we use Augmented Reality when we want to look at a vehicle using markers - so we can take a tablet, and look at a vehicle ‘through’ the tablet while layering our data on top of the real world picture.

What are the other benefits of working more in the virtual world?

The major benefit is bringing people together, and getting people talking to each other. Virtual Reality brings all the different teams together. Before, people often couldn’t see an issue because they quite literally couldn’t ‘see’ it. Virtual Reality has allowed the problem solving to happen at an earlier stage - so for the communication benefits alone, working in the virtual world pays dividends.

The design team are also able to use more tools to realise their vision – and they’re able to use the virtual world to build understanding between engineering and design. And of course, our customers get more from our cars. We can be more daring in our designs due to the virtual reality tools we can now use.

What’s the most exciting thing about Virtual Reality for you?

From my point of view, the most exciting thing is bringing people together. My team is aiming to change opinions and cultures within the company, tying people together. If we can work more together rather than in isolation, it will be a game changer. On top of that, we’re currently putting together a UK network to share knowledge nationwide – and that will be really exciting.

From a Jaguar point of view, our designers are well positioned to use our virtual tools. They’re getting involved inside the car, and they can now understand the vehicles from within. Using these tools is something that makes our next range of cars very exciting. And from what I’ve seen, we’re set to continue this trend of getting people excited. Our virtual tools will keep Jaguar at the forefront of design. They truly allow our designers more freedom to express their creativity.