As visualization partners for Audi, ZeroLight were tasked with developing the world's first complete Virtual Reality Showroom, unveiled at CES 2016. ZeroLight Programmer Matt Thorpe discusses the project from a development perspective, giving a behind the scenes look at creating such a high fidelity VR experience with the HTC Vive.


What excites you the most about working with VR?

It's an incomparable experience over traditional media. You are fully immersed in the scene and able to interact with 3D models and environments. Overall, it delivers a far more engaging experience as it's fully interactive, you're able to reach out, grab and influence the world around you.


How did you decide to approach VR development vs other projects?

Starting the project was very different as a fully configurable real-time 3D configurator in virtual reality had never been done before. We were effectively building the first complete VR showroom, everything was new! We began with the model & environment from ZeroLight (our proprietary software) and worked to implement a series of engine optimisations for the device, with continual hardware support from Steam. The development process at the time was expected to take a couple of weeks, thanks to a combined effort, we were standing next to the car in virtual reality in 3 days! Movement around the car was a new concept that took a lot of consideration. Coming from a gaming background, we think about the overall experience from a user's perspective. We ended up integrating multiple solutions to deliver the best result, including accelerated walkways, a grid movement system and user targeted relocation designed in partnership with engineers at Audi.


What part of the experience do you think people will enjoy the most?

One of the best parts of VR is that it lets you experience what you can't necessarily do in real life. ZeroLight's perspective is that you need to go beyond just re-creating real life experiences in VR, which we dub the ‘reality check.' In the Audi VR Experience you can look through the body of the car with x-ray vision (or clipping effect for developers) as you move. The body of the car literally dissolves as you pass through it, delivering a cross section of the internal components. It's a feature that allows you to seamlessly explore every detail of the car. You can look inside multiple parts of the car like the lights, the engine, all whilst on the moon!


The Verge Reports on the ZeroLight developed Audi VR Experience at CES 2016


What was the most unique/interesting part of the development process?

Discovering how intuitive the tracking was with the HTC Vive really got my attention, it was fantastic! I'm used to navigating around a 3D engine using a mouse & keyboard - with the headset & proprietary controllers I could just pull myself into different perspectives and move around the car instinctively!


What's unique about working with the Vive over other headsets?

The device allows for full 360 movement & extreme angles without compromise. It uses a unique tracking system where it can track multiple objects in a scene, as well as the user. The delicate balance of interaction facilitated by accurate tracking is a strong feature of this headset and makes a difference in the development cycle.


When you build the VR aspect of ZeroLight, where do you start?

ZeroLight is an omnichannel solution that can harness many possible channels. With VR being one of those channels, we use the same graphics back end that allows us to load every possible configuration for any car in any environment. Our primary focus is to optimise the VR pipeline, ensuring maximum rendering quality & resolution for the car, delivering the vehicle to the highest standard.


Fortune Reports on Audi Virtual Reality at CES powered by ZeroLight


What are your thoughts on the solution from a developer's perspective?

The result is a demo that runs at 90FPS with 11.1 milliseconds between each frame - which is an industry leading achievement especially when combined with a fully configurable 5 million poly car in the scene. Those numbers are a real achievement, and a testament to the capability of our technology, we're all extremely proud of the solution being delivered at CES this year.


Matt has been creating software professionally for over 7 years & continues to push the boundaries of new technology as part of the ZeroLight development team. Want to work alongside talented software developers like Matt? Visit our careers page to see latest vacancies.