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Ford’s Virtual Reality

With a re-launched design hub, the creative process takes centre stage at Ford Australia’s Melbourne headquarters. Annie Reid reports.

Ford’s Virtual Reality


September 5th, 2012

The global automotive manufacturer has just launched its refurbished Design Centre, with a range of high tech capabilities and a contemporary, open floor plan.

While the overall footprint hasn’t changed, the functionality has, says Craig Metros, design chief at Ford Australia: “Today we live in a digital world and we are working globally now.”

VRC usability testing in practice

Part of the fit out includes the groundbreaking new Virtual Reality Centre (VRC). One of only three in the Ford Company worldwide, the VRC aims to streamline vehicle design and engineering processes.

Essentially a windowless room containing 16 motion tracking cameras, it also features two car seats and a mock car interior, which link to specially designed helmets worn by those sitting in the ’car’.

“The ability to jump into an unmade car is unheard of,” says Adam Frost, chief engineer – global engineering services and APA digital innovation at Ford Australia.

VRC usability testing in practice

It enables designers using CAD to not only build virtual cars at a high level – to 0.005mm – but also create different themes quickly and concurrently. The technology is similar to that used by NASA and in the films Avatar and Polar Express.

“This is where design is first established. Using CAD we can create a complete car in 3D with thousands of parts,” Frost explains. (view a demonstration of this capability, here)

The team sketches on the latest Wacom tablet computers, where all designs are simply plugged into the centre’s second capability – the Powerwall.

Ford Australia’s innovative Powerwall System

This 6m x 3m high resolution screen projects in 3D and virtual environments, enabling colleagues to work and comment on the same data in real time with their counterparts in different countries.

“It’s using technology in a better way to design,” Frost says.

Integrated full-scale design assist software

Biometrics and saftey testing is carried out to the highest standard using CAD modelling

As for the centre’s interior, the contemporary open plan has a dark, neutral colour theme punctuated by elements including feature walls, furniture and lighting.

Most of the building’s design work was completed in-house, advised by Emily Lai, design manager for colours and materials at Ford Australia.

The sleek new Ford Design Centre

“It was great to have a blank canvas, an opportunity to mark a new age,” Lai says. “We wanted to create an environment of traditional and high-tech materials and finishes to capture the heritage and technical performance edge of Ford vehicles.”

With other initiatives such as Ford’s SYNC connectivity platform with Microsoft, Active City Stop and Active Park Assist, the company’s technological future looks set, says Bob Graziano, president of Ford Australia: “The results are now being seen on the road in the world.”



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