Ford designers have been swopping 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.
Designers have been piloting Microsoft HoloLens technology for a year now in Ford’s Dearborn studios, allowing them to see proposed virtual design elements as if these pieces were part of physical vehicles. They’ve been able 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.
HoloLens technology uses mixed reality, which 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.
As designers wearing headsets move around an actual vehicle, the Microsoft HoloLens scans and maps the environment far more accurately than GPS to render holograms and images from the angle at which the vehicle is being viewed.
A Windows 10 computer embedded in the headsets brings the power of the operating system to a holographic device that is untethered, 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.
Ford has adapted HoloLens technology to enable designers to collaborate with engineers to better understand the customer experience, too. For example, the technology allows a designer and engineer to evaluate in near-real time how a new side mirror looks aesthetically, as well as the customer’s view of the vehicle’s surroundings.
Whereas today it can take days, even weeks, to study a grille design, the HoloLens allows designers and engineers to explore a variety of different iterations in a matter of hours. 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.