ApplicationAutomotive & TransportationMixed Reality

Kia’s Compelling Use Case for Mixed Reality Car Design Through Varjo and Autodesk

South Korean auto manufacturer, KIA Motors, uses the Finnish mixed reality company to design in Europe.


Finnish XR headset manufacturer Varjo does things differently. They appeared on the scene with the VR-1 headset in 2018 promising human eye resolution. Their XR-1 can switch back-and-forth between mixed reality and virtual reality.

The hefty price tag on Varjo headsets essentially limit it to serious industry, but use cases go to the moon and back. As the XR-1 is supported by design solution Autodesk VRED, the mixed reality headset becomes an even more valuable solution for automotive companies.

To understand this relationship better, ARPost talked with Varjo co-founder and Chief Product Officer Urho Konttori.

Varjo and Autodesk

“When Varjo was just one year old, we were visiting the Autodesk offices,” Konttori said in a video interview with ARPost. “That’s when we really laid the foundation for this partnership. We basically had the solution prepared when we launched our first product.”

Varjo has been working with Autodesk ever since. The company was instrumental in the early positioning of Varjo as an industrial VR and mixed reality provider.

“It’s the perfect fit between two technologies,” Autodesk VRED product manager Lukas Fäth said in a release shared with ARPost. “With VRED’s highest accuracy in design quality and the photorealism of the Varjo XR-1, designers can spot problems and make iterations sooner than ever before.”

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Varjo has similar relationships with a number of companies in adjacent verticals.

“We’re very much a collaborative group. We don’t build the solutions ourselves, we are a hardware manufacturer. We work with all of our partners and engage with them almost on a day-to-day basis,” said Konttori. “We always try to learn as much as possible.”

There is a number of potential use cases that could be demonstrative of this partnership. However, that of South Korean auto manufacturer KIA Motors is particularly illustrative.

Automotive Design and Mixed Reality

Automotive design is a long and complicated process even with mixed reality. Without, it consists of both two-dimensional planning and collaboration and three-dimensional art and modeling with in-person meetings. KIA is based in Korea but one of its major design centers is in Europe.

Gregory Guillaume - Vice President of Design at KIA Motors Europe - mixed reality car design
Gregory Guillaume – Vice President of Design at KIA Motors Europe

This time last year, finalizing designs on an automobile might entail multiple in-person visits from executives in different continents. These multi-day visits, for cost and efficiency purposes, might be scheduled every couple of months. The system was already due for an update.

“Because the VRED has such great collaborative capacity, [KIA executives] are able to have these meetings in hours instead of days,” said Kontorri.

While as much collaboration as possible was already being done remotely to save time and cut costs, some aspects of the design process had no viable alternative.

“Although you can use keyboard, mouse, and screen to work efficiently in 2D, you’ll never get a fully realistic impression of the car,” Frank Hübbe, CAS Manager of the KIA’s European Design Center, said in the release.

However, a company as international as KIA quickly needed to rethink such things with the coming of the coronavirus pandemic over the winter and spring of this year. Remote collaboration would come into aspects of the design process that had previously been sacred to the physical world thanks to mixed reality solutions.

“The technology is bringing us together at a time when we can’t be present in the same physical space,” KIA’s European Design Center Vice President of Design, Gregory Guillaume, said in the release.

The KIA Use Case

“For the first time, we could literally see the metallic flakes in the paint and perceive the depth and quality of the material shaders. We could see the beauty of the details more than ever before in the virtual world,” KIA Motors’ European Design Center Creative Manager of CGI, Thomas Unterluggauer, said in the release.

KIA designers can create, share, and edit virtual models of automobiles at late stages of the design process. However, the classic physical clay model of the automobile can also be virtually edited in real-time remote collaboration through mixed reality.

Thomas Unterluggauer, Creative Manager CGI, KIA Design Center Europe - mixed reality car design - KIA + varjo
Thomas Unterluggauer, Creative Manager CGI, KIA Design Center Europe

“It’s fascinating how quickly you adapt to the mixed reality. You’re tricked into thinking for a moment that reality is wrong, that there is something missing,” said Unterluggauer. “It’s completely different to any other experience I’ve ever had in VR.”

In Enterprise From the Beginning

The last time ARPost talked to Varjo was to meet their new CEO Timo Toikkanen this summer. At the time, Toikkanen said something that seems at least as relevant now:

“Companies have pivoted from other facets of [XR] towards enterprise in particular and Varjo is benefitting from the fact that we don’t have any pivoting to do, we have been in enterprise from the beginning.”

Mixed reality had been catching up to actual reality for years. This use case is an example of a change for the better, taken as a drastic measure, that is unlikely to be cast aside when “normal” returns.


Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.