Tech Beat: Ford auto developers take a page from video gamers' playbook
When Ford has developed new cars for the past decade, the carmaker creates prototypes through a virtual reality system, rather than build actual prototypes, and video game technology helps those projects. YNN's Adam Balkin filed the following report.
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It makes perfect sense during these digital times that when a carmaker like Ford is developing a new car it should use a virtual reality system to modify a virtual car, rather than build, fabricate and install real parts on real cars.
For about the last 10 years, Ford has developed its cars like the Fusion through this virtual system.
"When you start making physical prototypes now, you have to actually make parts that are real and that costs a lot of money and then they're wasted after, so it take a lot of time to develop those physical prototypes and make calls based on those physical prototypes," says Ford Motor Company ergonomics engineer Marty Smets. "Now we can take the engineering data right out of our CAD databases, bring it into a 3-D environment, and we can immerse our engineers in that environment. Now you can make decisions on engineering, make decisions based on the customer's perspective before you ever have to make physical prototypes."
Engineers can then, in a matter of seconds, simply swap everything from buttons to windshields in and out to see which work best on an upcoming model.
A lot of the technology that makes this work is technology borrowed from the video game and film industries.
"It's a motion-capture technology, so it's an eight-camera Vicon system basking the environment in infrared light and the infrared light reflects off those silver markers and as long as two or three cameras can see a marker it can triangulate its position and we can get a 3-D coordinate for it," says Smets. "Then we can use that data to track the position of the head and provide eye-view windows within the head-mounted display, so that as they look around they see what they'd expect to see."
While developers say the system is constantly evolving and getting better, they actually do not envision a day when engineers will get in and virtually drive the car. They fear the visual part is so real that having it move without the sensation of actually moving would likely make the user sick to his or her stomach.