Innovative Automaker Adopts VR for Collaborative Design Efforts
The past few years have been challenging for automakers and the fleets that rely on them. Supply chain troubles and rapidly shifting consumer demands have led to price volatility and extensive backlogs. However, amid all these obstacles, GM was able to put out the BrightDrop Zevo 600 in record time.
Going from idea to full-scale production in under two years would be impressive in any context. Doing so at the peak of pandemic-era disruption is staggering. The only way it was possible was through extensive digitization and immersive collaboration — a practice that may rewrite the future of the transportation industry.
The Challenge of Modern Industry
To fully grasp the benefits of immersive collaboration, businesses must first recognize where conventional approaches fall short. It starts with the industry’s labor challenges. Manufacturing could have 2.1 million unfilled positions by 2030, and logistics and supply chain operations face similar shortages. As current workers retire and fewer enter the sector to take their place, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remain productive — at least by traditional means.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many office jobs transitioned to remote work, but industrial workplaces couldn’t, leading to long periods of lost productivity. Now, home-based jobs are becoming the norm in some sectors, attracting more young workers and worsening the labor crisis in industries where that’s not an option.
As these labor challenges persist, output demands are rising. Manufacturers must produce higher-quality products in less time at lower costs to remain competitive in an increasingly agile market. Fleets must support that growth and expand to deliver more in shorter time frames. Achieving that is challenging enough on its own, much less amid dwindling in-person workforces.
The pandemic also revealed how fragile conventional supply chains are. Companies must adapt to new challenges at a moment’s notice, but standard manufacturing and supply chain practices don’t support that kind of agility.
The Record-Breaking BrightDrop Zevo 600
Despite all these challenges, GM managed to put out its fastest vehicle to market in company history. Engineers began designing the BrightDrop Zevo 600 in early 2020, and despite shutdowns they released it 20 months later. The secret to this project’s success was a quick pivot to immersive virtual collaboration technologies.
Virtual reality (VR) was at the center of this technological shift. Engineers used VR to work together in immersive digital environments, replicating in-person cooperation despite being miles apart.
The VR system BrightDrop used is more advanced than a simple headset. It also features tracking sensors called lighthouses and pucks that give users a more grounded sense of position and direction in the virtual world. These sensors also prevent collisions with physical objects. VR-capable design software and gaming computers to run it completed the system.
Through these technologies, BrightDrop employees were able to collaborate from their homes. VR provided the convenience of videoconferencing with the ability to interact with the same digital elements as physical objects in conventional workflows.
What the Zevo 600 Means for Transportation
The Zevo 600’s development showcases immersive collaboration’s potential for industrial sectors. While VR meetups were a health necessity at COVID’s peak, they’re valuable time-savers under normal circumstances. Employees can work together without wasting time traveling to the same physical location.
Because VR is immersive, it’s easier to remain productive and ensure virtual models more closely reflect their real-world counterparts — whether they represent specific products or their larger supply chains. This advantage further shortens turnaround times by minimizing physical iterations and avoiding time waste other digital solutions may foster.
As these solutions speed up auto manufacturing, they open new possibilities for the fleets relying on these providers. New vehicles offering needed improvements in efficiency, reliability or sustainability will come out faster, enabling rapid fleet expansion. Shorter lead times can also reduce prices, further supporting logistics growth.
VR and similar technologies could also address logistics companies’ labor problems. Companies can hire employees from other cities, states and countries when people no longer have to be in the same place to work together. The labor pool broadens dramatically as a result.
VR-powered remote work doesn’t necessarily apply to drivers but can ease the burden on logistics businesses’ office staff. It also opens the door for remote onboarding and early training for drivers or mechanics, even if they must move to work in person eventually.
Similarly, some companies have started using VR to train mechanics and other personnel. Adopting this approach could let supply chain organizations bring new hires up to speed faster. Immersive digital environments are better teachers than noninteractive presentations but are safer than real-world workplaces and support remote hiring.
This digital collaboration also has benefits outside of speed and labor issues. Because it lets automakers create more in-depth designs in less time, they don’t have to sacrifice efficiency for high-quality products. That’s good news for transport companies seeking to grow their fleets while capitalizing on newer technologies for driver comfort or safety.
Despite its rapid development, the Zevo 600 brought several delivery-focused innovations to its design — including larger cupholders and a cabin that’s easier to enter and exit. Other automakers can use the same approach to equip their vehicles with in-demand features and functionality without long lead times. As a result, they can meet changing market needs faster, helping transportation and logistics become more agile.
Bringing Immersive Collaboration to New Applications
The BrightDrop Zevo 600 isn’t the only product to benefit from this technology, and it certainly won’t be the last. Maserati used a similar approach to design a car in eight weeks, aiming to have a working prototype in under two years. Computer-aided design software and 3D printing accelerated the process. As this design philosophy becomes standard, fleets can expect new vehicles to roll out faster, enabling quicker expansion or EV adoption.
Immersive, tech-centric collaboration has applications outside of automotive design. VR and its adjacent technologies enable real-time remote collaboration in workflows where simple video meetings aren’t sufficient. Logistics companies can use these solutions to connect maintenance professionals in different areas, learn to work with new equipment faster or collaborate on virtual models of supply chains for more effective planning.
This technology also has promise for fleets’ workforce and HR operations. Managers can train workers in VR so they learn important safety steps before handling potentially hazardous equipment in the real world. These immersive environments can shorten onboarding times to support faster expansion and higher productivity.
VR collaboration lets maintenance personnel train on virtual representations of different vehicles without needing the real thing. That way, fleets can prepare to work with newer equipment in less time. This advantage will become more important as autonomous driving and EVs transform logistics operations.
Supply chain management can benefit from immersive collaboration, too. VR meetings make communicating with global partners easier, informing faster, more effective operational decisions. Faster, more in-depth communication will become increasingly important as workforce struggles continue and demands for quick shipping rise.
Immersive Collaboration Is the Future of Transportation
BrightDrops’ Zevo 600 proves that digitization’s benefits for the auto industry are more than just theoretical. It enables the changes the sector needs to compete in a fast-paced, tech-centric world. While this shift is starting in manufacturing, it has ripple effects across the transportation and logistics industry.
New technologies will become essential in remaining productive as supply chain and logistics companies face mounting challenges. Immersive collaboration is the first and one of the most important steps in that goal. Now that companies are starting to see massive real-world benefits from this innovation, it won’t be long before it transforms the industry.