Virtual Reality Technology for Car Design

Sean T. Johnston

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The number of questions that are asked throughout the automotive design process is astronomical. Why is this part this shape? What happens if we lower this a couple of inches? How would this new grille design look? If we change this one section, how does it affect the overall design?


These are just a tiny sample of the thoughts that fill the minds and imaginations of Ford designers. Until recently, for each question, countless drawings, computer renderings and even clay models were generated to help move the design forward.


Now thanks to some incredible new technology, Ford is revolutionizing the process of getting a vehicle from perception to pavement.


For the past year, employees at the Ford Dearborn Studios have been testing a new tool that sounds like it’s straight out of a science fiction novel: Microsoft HoloLens. It’s a mixed-reality tool that helps automotive designers visualize vehicles like never before.


By strapping on a wireless headset, designers can see, edit and interact with vehicle elements in a virtual world. Using a real vehicle as a backdrop, Microsoft HoloLens allows designers to see and manipulate proposed design changes virtually and collaboratively. Collaborators can even record virtual reality “sticky notes” that can provide feedback for team members working in different time zones. This new technology enables Ford to reduce the time it takes to review and discuss changes. It also allows more immersive interactions between designers and engineers.


“HoloLens allows a whole team of people to collaborate, share and experience ideas together,” says Elizabeth Baron, Ford virtual reality and advanced visualization technical specialist. “Mixing virtual and physical models is exciting, because it helps our designers and engineers communicate effectively and ideate to see what the future looks like earlier in the process. This allows great freedom and efficiency in how prototypes are created or changed.”


In addition to saving time and improving collaboration throughout the process, Microsoft HoloLens can help everyone see the world through the eyes of a driver. For instance, changes to a side mirror have both an aesthetic and a practical component. HoloLens technology can help demonstrate how a proposed change to the side mirror would look, and how it might affect what the driver sees.


Ford has only scratched the surface of the potential for Microsoft HoloLens. In fact, the company is currently looking at additional opportunities to use the mixed-reality technology to aid the engineering development process, among many other potential applications.

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