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Ford Australia accesses a new reality

Reality show: Motion trackers in Ford’s virtual reality lab allows users to immerse themselves with a headset providing a 3D view of the virtual world.

Upgraded Ford Australia virtual reality lab to open in Q3 of 2014

Ford logo31 Mar 2014

FORD Australia’s upgraded virtual reality lab will quite literally put local engineers in the driver’s seat with a new immersive space designed to give them access to future products well before they are built.

The car-maker announced this week that it is in the process of upgrading the virtual reality studio it opened at its manufacturing plant in the Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows in 2012. The re-vamped facility opens in the third-quarter of the year.

Further investment in 2014 means it can update hardware and software as well as the actual space itself to ensure it remains “at the cutting-edge of immersive virtual reality technology”.

Ford Australia said in a statement that the “Hollywood-style” technology would help its local designers and engineers to move into an ultra-high definition virtual world.

While Ford will will close its Australian manufacturing arm in 2016, it will continue to serve as an R&D hub for the Asia Pacific region well into the future, and play a key role in creating a number of vehicles such as the Everest SUV and the Chinese-market Escort.

New “photo-realistic” VRED software from Autodesk will allow Ford’s local team to experience a completely immersive virtual space that lets them experience a vehicle in much the same way customers do now in a showroom.

Ford says the upgraded virtual space – which will launch in the third quarter of the year – allows the engineers and designers to create virtual clarity that is “almost indistinguishable from a real car” APA digital innovation manager Peter Bunting said the updates to the software will ensure far greater realism than was previously possible in the Australian lab.

“By upgrading to Autodesk VRED software, the Australian immersion lab will offer a higher level of visual fidelity with a display that is 4 times HD resolution,” he said.

“Also, high-definition headsets will allow immersed users to experience a vehicle in full stereoscopic 3D.” “VRED software gives us phenomenal realism and allows us to examine aspects of the vehicle with detail we have not been able to realise in the past. In many ways, the assessments are more valuable than looking at a physical model.” While the existing virtual reality lab commissioned in 2012 was used in numerous projects, Mr Bunting said it is limited by its size and could not accommodate all Ford vehicles.

“The PX Ranger is an example of a vehicle that only just fits in the current lab. Due to the size of the vehicle, it’s difficult for designers and engineers to step back and view the vehicle from a distance, just as a customer would, without running out of physical space. The new, larger lab will solve this problem.

“It’s an odd problem to have, to not have enough physical space to hold a virtual model but all our models are scaled 1:1 so we need enough physical space in the lab to engage with the full-size virtual model.” Engineers from different Ford technical centres around the world will be able to work together on the same product at the same time before quickly shifting focus to another car design proposal.

Ford believes the updated tech will help improve the quality of its vehicles as engineers can pore over most elements of the exterior and interior of a car in 4k resolution.

The lab will also feature X-ray technology, with the structure of a vehicle visible for engineers to study the various mechanical, structural and electrical systems of a car.

Ford says its motion tracking cameras in the lab capture the movement of the engineers, with this data then interfaced with software to recreate the movement in the virtual space.

This can be done in real time with a headset providing a 3D view of the entire virtual world.

The original lab at Ford’s Broadmeadows plant opened in August 2012, about nine months before the company announced its plans to close its manufacturing operations in Australia in 2016.

While Ford will cease manufacturing locally built vehicles such as the Territory and Falcon in Australia, it will continue its engineering and design facilities that will be involved in the development of future global vehicles.

Ford’s first immersion lab opened at the company’s global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan in 2007 and it was built for engineers to test various elements of new vehicle design without having to build physical models.

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