How Virtual Reality is changing the way we design Cars

by Nicole on January 16, 2017

Virtual Reality allows human interaction to go beyond a keyboard and mouse, allowing collaboration and connects in a shared digital space. Using computational power and gamification (teleporting, scaling and time manipulation) Ford has been able to enhance workflow enabling higher productivity and communication.

Ford Immersive Vehicle Environment Lab (FIVE)

Virtual Reality as a tool for rapid prototyping has become pervasive in multiple industries, but Ford has been aggressive in implementing this technology in various stages of automotive development.

Ford’s FIVE Lab (Ford Immersion Vehicle Environment Lab) has been around since 2013 and has multiple locations in different locations around the world. The secret sauce to the Lab isn’t in the Virtual Reality itself but how multiple people can collaborate in real time in the virtual environment.

nVis ST50 isn’t the newest head mounted display, but it is military grade and extremely durable.

The hardware itself isn’t massively impressive when you look at boundaries being pushed with display technology and inside out tracking. The military grade headset allows engineers to look at details of a car’s upholstery or the grooves of a tail pipe within a half-millimeter placement. Observers can watch a 3-meter custom 4k laser projector to take part in observing changes to the car. The showcase isn’t about the hardware it’s about how it’s being used. The Immersion lab allows for large scale collaboration (multiple labs on different continents) create real time access from different departments and design teams to discuss a single model real time.

You can take a closer look at the FIVE Lab here in their video

The FIVE Lab has been around since 2013 and since Virtual Reality has found a stronger foothold in different areas of the development process.

Virtual Reality and the Design Process

Studio 2000X is where science fiction meets the car industry, advanced renderings, Hollywood-style animations and collaborative virtual reality. Designing in 3D isn’t a new concept, but using a VR headset to walk around your 3D creation is.

VR is being used to change the way that designers concept a vehicle. Using Google’s Tilt brush designers are drawing cars in 3D. Interestingly, if you ask a designer to draw a box in a virtual space they’ll draw a 2D box like they’ve been trained to do. Drawing a box in a 3D space is a completely different exercise and creating within this 3D world lead to a fundamental shift in conceptualizing a design.

Ford showed off how one of their designers drawing a car for the first time in Google’s Tilt Brush using an HTC Vive. If you’ve never used Tilt Brush before you need to try it, the sensation of creating in virtual reality is nothing short of godlike the first time you try it.

Virtual Manufacturing Technology

Virtual Manufacturing technology has to be one of the earliest ways VR gained mainstream adoption. By having a digital assembly line companies save millions by streamlining production lines and preventing repetitive injuries to its workers.

Workers simulate the physical labor needed to put the parts together. Using motion-capture technology Ford compares the data from the actors to existing bio-mechanical models. They are able to determine whether workers will strain and perhaps get injured and will modify the design accordingly.

The project has been able to reduce injury by 70% through implementing the latest ergonomics research and implementing assembly improvements based on their findings in the lab. 

Ultimately these innovations using Virtual Reality The result is that Ford builds fewer physical models and creates more virtual models, and Ford is accepting more configurations and making choices earlier in the design process thanks to VR.

Virtual Reality is maturing in a way that excites and through these three separate implementations of VR Ford is leveraging it’s potential.