Ford’s Virtual Reality Cave
Ford’s Virtual Reality Cave, or VRC, is helping the company’s North American product engineers evaluate design before production. The lab reduces the need to build physical prototypes and trims thousands of dollars and several months from the product development process.
Located in the Product Visualization Center at the company’s Product Development Center in Dearborn, the digital lab, a darkened room about the size of an office, is modeled after a nearly identical Ford of Europe German facility. With two such facilities, cross-Atlantic collaboration is possible for the development of global vehicle platforms.
"Having VRCs on both sides of the Atlantic supports the Global Product Development System and Way Forward by allowing management teams in North America and Europe to make consistent decisions based on shared data and to make them more quickly," said James Forbes, Ford Core Vehicle Architecture technical leader.
The VRC is outfitted with a computer, discreet cameras and a "driver’s seat." Three walls and the ceiling are covered by rear projection screens that display computer-aided design (CAD) drawings of vehicle interiors and exteriors at actual scale.
During a design evaluation, a program engineer sits in a car seat on a low platform and wears 3-D glasses to view a highly detailed CAD illustration. An engineer who wears the glasses while viewing the design feels immersed in it. Tiny balls attached to the frame of the glasses communicate the tester’s head orientation to cameras around the room, which translates the tester’s movements to the computer running the CAD program and adjusts the image to the tester’s orientation
"The VRC enables design engineers to evaluate the ergonomics of the interior and clarity of views — any visual aspect of a vehicle’s interior architecture," said Bob Coury, Ford Core Vehicle Architecture supervisor.
For example, the tester can look over his own shoulder to evaluate the rear view and judge whether the headrest obscures the view or if the package tray under the rear window is too high. The same conclusion can be drawn from sitting in a physical prototype, but a VRC test can be done within a few days of completing the CAD drawings, while building a prototype can take up to 12 weeks.
"We’re moving faster and getting the right product out the first time," said Kevin Shores, Ford Core Vehicle Architecture static test engineer.
The Product Visualization Center’s digital "cave" complements Ford’s pre-existing Programmable Vehicle Model (PVM), a physical device with basic vehicle attributes that can be modified to match the dimensions of the vehicle design being tested.
"In the VRC, virtually anything you can see on a vehicle can be duplicated, from the A pillar to the underbody," said Coury.