Ford designers use mixed reality for future cars

Ford designers and engineers will now work collaboratively – irrespective of the location, time zones or off-site – on the same project at the same time using Microsoft’s HoloLens.

By Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 22 Sep 2017 Views icon6257 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Traditional car designing has evolved through the years, from sketching on papers to using advanced designing software. But now, American carmaker Ford Motor Company, is rolling out using Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed reality technology globally to increase speed in designing new vehicles.

Ford designers are swapping some clay-sculpting steels and rakes for mixed reality headsets and visualisation software that can change vehicle design elements – side mirrors, grilles, vehicle interiors and more – in mere seconds.

The new technology allows car designers wearing the wireless headsets to see several digital designs and parts as if these were already incorporated into a physical vehicle.  As per Ford, this helps them to explore more design proposals that allows reducing time off design and engineering processes that usually take years. For instance, evaluating a vehicle’s side mirror aesthetics and how that affects a driver’s view normally takes days or weeks, but is now possible in minutes, even seconds.

Ford’s designers have been using Microsoft HoloLens technology for a year now at its Dearborn studios, USA. This allowed them to see proposed virtual design elements as if these pieces were part of physical vehicles. It has enabled to explore different shapes, sizes and textures of future vehicle attributes in minutes and hours instead of the weeks and months it can take to create clay models. And now, Ford is expanding this pioneering testing across the globe.

Jim Holland, VP, vehicle component and systems engineering, Ford, said “It’s amazing we can combine the old and the new – clay models and holograms – in a way that both saves time and allows designers to experiment and iterate quickly to dream up even more stylish, clever vehicles. Microsoft HoloLens is a powerful tool for designers as we continue to re-imagine vehicles and mobility experiences in fast-changing times.”

Microsoft HoloLens technology uses mixed reality, that enables designers to see holograms in photo-quality backdrops through wire-free headsets. They can scroll and preview at the flick of a finger through numerous design variations projected virtually onto an actual car or clay model.

Craig Wetzel, manager, design technical operations, Ford, said “We may not be able to teleport yet, but HoloLens allows us to review full-size 3D designs with designers and engineers around the world in real time. And we’ve only just scratched the surface, so possibilities for the future seem almost limitless. This is very exciting.”

Mixed Reality

As the designers wearing headsets move around an actual vehicle, the HoloLens scans and maps the environment far more accurately compared to a GPS to render holograms and images from the angle at which the vehicle is being viewed.

A computer embedded in the headsets brings the power of the operating system to a holographic device that is un-tethered, wearable and mobile. Traditionally, designers and engineers have to wear headsets that rely on cables tethered to a PC.

Designers see 3D holographic images of themes and features as though these elements were already part of the vehicle – allowing them to quickly evaluate the design, make changes, and determine styling options earlier in development.

Michael Smith, Ford design manager, said “With HoloLens, we can instantly flip through virtual representations to decide which direction they should go. As a designer, you want to show, not just tell. This is much more compelling.”

Ford has adapted HoloLens technology to enable designers to collaborate with engineers to better understand the customer experience, too. The headsets can even be synced to allow multiple team members to view a design simultaneously, making collaboration easy. They can also record audio notes – high-tech “sticky notes” – for team members working in other time zones or off-site.

Beyond the global design test, Ford is investigating how to bring HoloLens technology into more engineering development processes to further bolster the company’s lead in using advanced visualisation technologies such as virtual reality. 

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