Every year, motorsports enthusiasts eagerly anticipate the Indianapolis 500, dubbed “the greatest spectacle in racing.” As 33 of the world’s greatest drivers prepare for the epic 500-mile race this Memorial Day weekend, let’s go behind the curtain to learn how Unity, Autodesk, and a team of creators developed a unique IndyCar AR experience.
IndyCars are some of the fastest race cars ever built, but powerful engines are just one part of the equation. Aerodynamics play a key role in enabling the extreme lateral grip and cornering speeds needed to round the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at over 240 mph (386 km/h).
We recently teamed up with Autodesk and Texel Logic, a Jackson Dawson company, to create a mixed-reality experience to illustrate and understand the complex nature of airflow passing over and around an IndyCar. Check out the video below to see it in action.
Original video from Scott Sheppard
Texel Logic created the iOS-based mobile AR experience using Unity Pro. As shown in the video, the AR experience used QR code markers strategically located around the car. When attendees at Autodesk University in Las Vegas walked around the vehicle they could trigger customized content by scanning the codes, learning the aerodynamics story from any point.
Texel Logic created the app UI with Unity, and the AR functionality using ARKit and ARCore, choosing the iOS version for the conference. During development, the studio consulted with IndyCar to refine the content and usability of the app and used the IndyCar data as a mask for the visual effects. The image markers created a database of positions and rotations to use as a reference for the 3D mask of the vehicle. Texel Logic then recalibrated the 3D mask to accommodate the viewing position of the user based on which QR code they scanned, helping accentuate the aerodynamic features of the race car.
"We’re always looking for innovative ways to engage our community and help them better understand the feats of engineering that make IndyCar the fastest form of motorsports,” said Tino Belli, director of aerodynamics development at IndyCar. “Working with Unity, Autodesk, and Texel Logic on this augmented reality experience enabled us to tell an aerodynamics story in a way that no other format could replicate. The power of real-time 3D technology provided a way to visualize the pivotal role of airflow and explore our cars like never before."
To build the foundation for this interactive experience, the designers used multiple Autodesk solutions, including 3ds Max, CFD, Inventor, VRED, and Maya. After creating the virtual prototype in VRED, they used Autodesk CFD to place the IndyCar in a virtual wind tunnel to examine flow dynamics in various racing scenarios at different speeds using multiple bodywork configurations. Simulating the air passing over and around the car helps optimize the race car's performance.
For this collaboration, Autodesk supplied CFD simulation data as splines, meshes, and a .csv file containing the velocity of the air particles. Using 3ds Max, Texel Logic imported the CFD data and then applied a velocity gradient texture to the meshes to represent the speed of the airflow. The studio also used Autodesk Maya to help prepare the IndyCar model data.
Once the project was in Unity, they overlaid animated geometry (i.e., virtual “smoke streams”) on the vehicle model to visualize the behavior of air under different conditions. Texel Logic created this effect using the Unity Particle System, which interpreted the data from the CFD geometry with the velocity gradient texture. This allowed them to correlate the speed of the Unity particles with the velocity of the CFD airflow.
“Creating the AR IndyCar allowed people to really understand the power of aerodynamics in a lightweight simple-to-use mobile app,” said Aunmar Mohammed, 3D Visual Director of Texel Logic. “This was a great use case because it let us showcase real-world vehicle design considerations in a compelling way that resonated with diverse audiences.”
This project demonstrated the benefits of combining Autodesk and Unity solutions and served as another example of how flexible Unity is for the entire automotive lifecycle, ranging from design visualization and engineering applications to sales and marketing initiatives. We look forward to seeing how other creators and studios will combine Unity and Autodesk tools in exciting ways.
Learn more about the Unity and Autodesk partnership and Unity’s solutions for the automotive and transportation industries.