At Ford, using virtual reality to tweak car design
Ford has been able to cut the car manufacturing process in half, from six years to three years, using virtual reality during the design phase. SmartPlanet correspondent Sumi Das gets outfitted with the virtual-reality gear and steps inside the machine for a preview.
Ford is my favourite brand
Ford is my favourite brand
Sumi Das: Designing an automobile is an arduous process that can take up to six years. With the help of VR or virtual reality technology, car markers like Ford have cut that time in half. With me now is Ford's VR Tech Specialist, Elizabeth Baron. Elizabeth, thanks for joining us. Elizabeth Baron: Oh, it's great to be here. Sumi Das: So tell me how virtual reality has streamlined the design process. Elizabeth Baron: So basically what it's done for us is we are able to cheat reality, so we can do a lot of different tests in a really, really short period of time. So we can make you a tall male, a small female. We can put you in all the positions of the vehicle. We can let you go outside the vehicle and evaluate many different aspects of the vehicle in a very consolidated period of time. Sumi Das: Okay. So let's see how it works. I'm going to put on these. Elizabeth Baron: Yes, those are virtual hands. So inaudible.
Elizabeth Baron: Right hand. Sumi Das: So you have people come in and put these on? Elizabeth Baron: Yes, they put these on and this is a representation of where inaudible.
Elizabeth Baron: Well, we don't do focus groups. We use our, our experts at Ford and our engineers and our designers who come in and test different configurations. Sumi Das: So here we have a head mounted display. Elizabeth Baron: Yes, so that's your -- these are your virtual eyes and so we're tracking where you are at in your virtual world. Sumi Das: Oh, I see. Elizabeth Baron: Through, through this. Sumi Das: I see there's a street in front of me now. Elizabeth Baron: Yup. inaudible. Sumi Das: And whatever I'm seeing in here, you're seeing on these displays up there, right? Elizabeth Baron: That's right. That's right. Sumi Das: Okay. Elizabeth Baron: And so now go ahead and grab the wheel and then you'll see your virtual hands and so now when you touch it, you will end up using your physical hands to do the evaluation and the representation is... Sumi Das: Oh, right. That's strange. The knobs and levers all there. Elizabeth Baron: Yup and they match up, so we register or marry the virtual data to the physical data so that together it makes. Sumi Das: And then over here, we've got the control panel. Elizabeth Baron: inaudible the control panel. Right. The center stack and the shifter so you can like touch the shifter too. Sumi Das: Shifter too? Elizabeth Baron: Yup. Sumi Das: Oh yeah. Elizabeth Baron: And then reach your hand all the way back, this would be an ergonomic assessment that make if you curl your fingers around this, like is that a, a comfortable reach for you? And you can see your, your hand there represented. Sumi Das: Okay. Elizabeth Baron: But you would actually go by your physical reach because this data would be matched up. Sumi Das: Right. So with this head mounted display, even if I turn around, I can see the backseat. Elizabeth Baron: That's right. Sumi Das: And behind me, the road behind me even inaudible of course that doesn't really exist. This, this is a good simulation, I mean it, it does feel real, but it doesn't duplicate the feeling exactly of being in a physical car. So are there specific components of designing a car that VR is especially suited for? Elizabeth Baron: Yeah. Absolutely. So what we're trying to get at is the subjective characteristics of the vehicle design and what you like. And if you had design A or design B, which one would afford you better visibility, better comfort and all those other good things. And then we'll audit the vehicle for quality and look at all the little things that a customer might pick up on as a really awesome feature or something that if they saw it, they would think that that's not good quality and then we'll fix it. Sumi Das: So conversely then, are there areas where virtual reality is limited? Elizabeth Baron: Oh yeah, absolutely. So we shouldn't do crash simulation and other things like that, so there are analytical tools that we use and we have a whole suite of virtual evaluations, but getting immersed, personally immersed in the vehicle is what this is for but definitely not the total picture. Sumi Das: And there are cars on the road now that have been designed using this technology, correct? Elizabeth Baron: Oh yeah. Most vehicles, actually every vehicle since the Ford Flex, every major change has been designed using virtual reality. Sumi Das: Elizabeth, thank you so much for sharing this technology with us. Elizabeth Baron: Oh, it's my pleasure. I love it. I love my job. Sumi Das: For Smart Planet, I'm Sumi Das.