Ford Australia has a problem. The company's design lab is too small for its virtual cars. A brand new upgrade to its virtual reality lab in Broadmeadows will help Ford engineers work on the design of its Australian and international vehicles, with an Ultra HD 'immersion' environment that lets designers interact with cars in near-reality quality without needing a full-size physical model.
The new Ford Australia Immersion Lab is running Autodesk VRED software and an Ultra HD display, enabling engineers to see internal and external vehicle elements in extremely high resolution, with VRED adding realistic, real-time lighting and shadow to more accurately reflect what the final product will look like when it rolls off the production line. Across the room, two car seats and a pair of Full HD head-mounted displays let designers sit inside virtual-reality models of Ford's vehicles, giving them a better idea of the design of a car's interior as they put it together.
The Australian Immersion Lab follows Ford's pioneering Michigan virtual design centre, which was unveiled in Dearborn in 2007. Virtual reality design lets the Ford teams create and prototype new exterior and interior design features without producing expensive one-off physical models, which are then discarded after a revised model is created.
In Broadmeadows, motion tracking lets designers move around inside and outside vehicles, mapping those movements to the head-mounted displays — giving the design and engineering teams the ability to look in and around Ford's current and future cars, with their real-world motions represented 1:1 in the virtual studio. The problem with the previous system was that larger cars, like the latest Ford Ranger, were simply too big to have their interior and exterior models recreated at full virtual size — basically, engineers were bumping into the walls wearing virtual-reality headsets trying to look around.
Ford has been working on the Immersion Lab locally since 2012, but construction is finally nearing its completion. The lab itself will be complete in Australia in the third quarter of this year — we'll try to bring you an in-depth tour when that happens.