Why Buying Your Next Car May Include a Trip Through Augmented Reality

by Danny Shapiro

For many people, the first stop in the car-buying process is no stop at all: They go online to browse options, colors and trim level from the comfort of home.

To entice potential buyers into showrooms, many dealerships are adding a similar customization experience so they can show customers options that may not be in stock.

While convenient, both methods suffer from a key limitation: the end result is a static image. Enjoying a car is a 3D experience. So, ideally, you could see your choices on an actual car.

This week at the annual SIGGRAPH conference in Anaheim, Calif., visual projection specialist Christie and NVIDIA will be showcasing the next best thing: an interactive design studio that brings vehicles to life using augmented reality to blend computer graphics with physical models.

This demo will be just one of the ways we’ll be telling the story of how computer graphics is revolutionizing the auto industry. In our booth we’re also showcasing how NVIDIA is making cars safer, and more enjoyable to drive. Stop by to experience:

  • UI Composer Studio – our software tool chain that lets designers digitally craft customizable digital dashboards and infotainment systems.
  • Jetson – our next generation automotive development kit, that enables automakers to accelerate their development and bring the power of our next-generation mobile graphics technology to cars instead of trying to play catch-up consumer electronics.
  • Tesla Model S – Car of the Year for 2013, according to Motor Trend, and powered by NVIDIA.   On-board auto computing represents a huge opportunity for the computer graphics industry, and there’s no better example of that than the Tesla’s all digital dashboard and 17″ touchscreen display.
  • RTT DeltaGen and Dassault Catia – Real-time rendering improves how auto designers, engineers and artists can leverage the same data to streamline the process of developing cars and bringing them to market.

While these will reshape how drivers experience the next generation of cars, Christie’s work starts well before consumers slip behind the wheel.

The centerpiece of this demo at the NVIDIA booth is a one-fifth scale model of an Audi R8 coupe resting on a surface of specialized projection tiles (see image, below). Using a touch panel, users can instantly change the appearance of the car, select the style of the wheels and alter the head lamps.


Want to see how the Audi R8 looks on a mountain road or city street? No problem. The environment surrounding the car can be changed with a simple touch.

Christie achieves the effect using a car configurator developed by RTT for Audi. It’s built on RTT DeltaGen software, the same tool many automakers use for digital review of new car designs.

To “apply” paint, wheels and the like, Christie uses unique projection mapping software to create what’s called a WARP mesh – a 3D mesh that matches the physical shape of the screen, in this case the 3D shape of the car’s body.

DCIM100GOPROAn NVIDIA GPU creates an image and de-forms it so it wraps onto the body. Images from multiple projectors are combined to get a seamless rendering of the car, which is viewable from all angles.  To add further realism, the software renders reflections of the background onto the car (see image, right).

Roy Anthony, the lead researcher at Christie, who came up with the installation, is already planning to update the graphics hardware. He’s looking to augment the current graphics server, which uses  Quadro K5000 cards and Quadro Sync cards, with NVIDIA Tesla K20 GPU accelerators – the kind used in supercomputers to add more realistic effects – and maybe even show the car driving down the road.

It sounds complicated to pull off – and it definitely is sophisticated technology. But it couldn’t be easier for the customer to experience.