Years before a Ford automobile goes into production, designers can go hands on with the car through virtual reality! They can look and feel all around a car as if they were really in it. This week we got a special tour of Ford’s design laboratory in Deerborn, Michigan–it was quite a treat for us techies. Their Immersive Vehicle Environment (FIVE) Lab Facilities houses a virtual reality dummy car that allows the designers to interact with a future or concept vehicle, Tron style.
Pictured above is a dummy car which sports just a few features of a real car like seats, a steering wheel, and a shifter. There’s also part of a door panel and a blank dashboard. Above this dummy car is an array of cameras. When a user straps on a virtual reality helmet, and sensor gloves, they’re immersed into the future. They’re no longer sitting in a dummy car, but rather an actual CAD rendering of what a future vehicle could look like.
The CAD model that the user interacts with is complete, inside and out. It’s an exact replica of how the future car could be designed. With the helmet and gloves, the virtual reality tester can interact with various features in the car and then work with the design team and engineers to improve. They can test a multitude of design choices like the layout of the shifter, position of the rear view mirror, blind spots, headroom, or how easy it is for a technician to access the electrical unit inside of the door panel.
As you can see from the images, there are two screens in this particular virtual reality unit that displays exactly what the tester can see. It corresponds to where ever they’re looking in the car. I got to be that tester, and what an experience! It was like I was really sitting in the actual car. I could see it all. I was even able to put my head inside of the door. Let me say that again: I was able to put my head inside the door, viewing the door frames internals as a cross section. They popped me in between the front seat and the backseat. As a natural button pusher, let’s just say I had a good time checking out all the nooks and crannies. Side note: the transition back to reality was a bit disorienting.
Ford’s Programmable Vehicle Model (PVM) is one of the many amazing design innovations that we saw in Deerborn. It’s one of those innovations you wouldn’t necessarily think of being part of automobile design, but after seeing it in action, it makes so much sense. It allows Ford to provide a superior level of craftsmanship, quality, and attention to detail, in a cost-effective manner. Engineers can respond more effectively to consumer preferences, which is key. Think of the amount of time, labor, and money they can save by going hands on in virtual reality before having to produce a physical demo model (food for thought).