Published on September 10th, 2014 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
Ford in Australia Showcases new Virtual Reality Centre
Ford recently unveiled its new Ford immersive Virtual Environment (FiVE) lab in Melbourne, which will enable designers to build a full-size virtual car, years before a customer gets behind the wheel.
“Ford was one of the earliest adopters of this type of virtual reality in the development process, and the quality of our new FiVE lab shows how far Ford is willing to go for craftsmanship and attention to detail when designing its vehicles,” said Peter Bunting, AP digital innovation manager. “This technology is a crucial element in bringing high quality vehicles to customers all over the world.”
Earlier this year, Ford Australia initiated a second round of investment into its Virtual Reality Centre, which was originally launched in 2012. The comprehensive overhaul updated the lab’s hardware and software, including a move to new photo-realistic virtual reality software (VRED) and greatly expanded motion-tracking equipment equivalent to that used in the animation and gaming industry. The FiVE lab also significantly expanded its physical footprint. The new space is now large enough to amply “fit” an entire virtual car, enabling designers to perform “walk-arounds” and experience the virtual model much like a consumer would experience a car at a dealership.
“Sometimes you have to step back to gain that special perspective, as any car buyer knows well. The larger lab gives us the extra space we need to get the whole experience, from the interior details to the exterior styling,” said Bunting.
New technology, new capabilities
The new VRED software renders the completely immersive virtual space in ultrahigh definition – four times the resolution of HD. Using upgraded computing facilities, new high-definition headsets will deliver a full low-latency stereoscopic 3D experience to users, creating a virtual world with a level of realism previously unattainable in the lab.
“The FiVE lab enables virtual modeling with a whole new level of detail. We can see through and inside the vehicle’s structure to really inspect how it all works together, from the overall architecture to the mechanical and electrical systems,” said Bunting. “This lets us combine engineering issues with the aesthetic in one comprehensive setting.”
Additional upgrades to the FiVE lab include:
- New 4K-resolution display increases the level of detail through which engineers can inspect issues that arise throughout vehicle development. The actual movement of designers and engineers inspecting the virtual vehicles aligns with virtual movement, and the system allows Ford workers globally to analyze and inspect the same virtual vehicles with extreme visual fidelity in real-time. The lab’s upgraded software provides a virtual experience almost indistinguishable from a real vehicle.
- The expanded “Immersive Virtual Space” has nearly doubled the motion tracking equipment used to track the user’s movements in real-time. This technology is identical to that used in the animation and games industry to capture actual movement, and truly transfer that movement onto a movie or game.
- Upgraded computers and graphics cards help create a low-latency stereoscopic 3D display through a sophisticated virtual reality headset. As the user moves throughout the virtual world they can interact with the virtual vehicle the same way they would in real life. The headset even provides a view into the physical world, so the user can see his/her body in relation to the virtual data.
Virtual models with real-world results
Ford’s immersive virtual reality program began in 2006 in Detroit, in order to test different design, styling and ergonomic options to make improvements to new vehicles before they reach the physical prototyping stage – after which even slight adjustments can be expensive and time consuming. This precision-centric approach has improved the quality and aesthetic of Ford vehicles across the global lineup, and is already evident in design improvements that have made it into full-scale production.
On the all-new Ford Mustang, for example, engineers viewing the vehicle in the virtual reality setting discovered a way to alter the fit and finish of the dashboard and improve ergonomics for both right-hand and left-hand drive. Eliminating exposed fasteners enabled designers to craft a more refined, finished look, bringing a new level of craftsmanship to the interior of the world’s original pony car.
During the development phases of the all-new Ford Escort and the upcoming all-new Ford Everest, Ford Asia Pacific engineers and designers carried out extensive ergonomic studies to ensure that the layout of the interior controls were positioned logically and conveniently for the customer. The immersive visualization and interfacing from the customer’s perspective – in a virtual driver’s seat – allows engineers and designers to validate and ensure that functions and controls are in optimal locations throughout the cockpit.
Regional hub, One Ford
Ford’s global network of virtual reality centers is comprised of two primary FiVE labs – the facility in Australia and another in the United States – and collaboration centers in Germany, China, India, Brazil and Mexico. This year to date, the technology has been used to verify more than 150,000 details on more than 200 virtual vehicle prototypes built in the global FiVE labs.
“Our One Ford plan is to develop vehicles with stronger global appeal,” said Bunting. “This technology helps achieve that goal by assisting our designers and engineers to collaborate in real-time on an international scale – while also improving vehicle quality.”
The system allows engineers and designers around the world to quickly transition from different virtual design proposals to examine and select the best option. This process ensures that all production vehicles have been painstakingly combed-over for usability, consistency and design effects that are now discernible in the sophisticated shadows and real-world lighting conditions the tools provide.
“We can work virtually on the same product, side-by-side, with people all over the world,” said Todd Willing, design director, Ford Asia Pacific. “Using the 4K-resolution displays in the FiVE lab and design studio, engineers and designers work together – here in Melbourne and with their counterparts elsewhere – to hone every aspect of Ford vehicles.”