Just when auto design couldn’t get any more high-tech, Ford comes in with a pilot of Microsoft’s latest virtual reality (VR) technology that aims to combine the analog way with the digital age to push auto design light years forward.

Over the last year, Ford designers have been trying out Microsoft HoloLens technology, mixed reality headsets plus visualization software that allows the wearer to view proposed design elements on an actual prototype vehicle to see how it affects the vehicle’s aesthetics.

This speeds up the assessment process for designers to just minutes and hours instead of weeks and months from having to wait for clay models to be finalized.  

“It’s amazing we can combine the old and the new – clay models and holograms – in a way that both saves time and allows designers to experiment and iterate quickly to dream up even more stylish, clever vehicles. Microsoft HoloLens is a powerful tool for designers as we continue to reimagine vehicles and mobility experiences in fast-changing times,” says Jim Holland, Ford vice president, vehicle component and systems engineering.

The HoloLens technology is viewed through wireless headsets which allow designers to scroll and preview holograms in photo-quality backdrops just by flicking their finger through numerous design options projected virtually onto an actual vehicle or clay model.

“We may not be able to teleport yet, but HoloLens allows us to review full-size 3D designs with designers and engineers around the world in real time,” says Craig Wetzel, Ford manager, design technical operations. “And we’ve only just scratched the surface, so possibilities for the future seem almost limitless. This is very exciting.”

Using GPS for accuracy as designers walk around the vehicle wearing the headsets, Microsoft HoloLens is able to render holograms and images from any corner and angle of the vehicle.

“With HoloLens, we can instantly flip through virtual representations to decide which direction they should go. As a designer, you want to show, not just tell. This is much more compelling,” says Michael Smith, Ford design manager. 

With this new technology, designers can work hand in hand with engineers to see how a new feature can affect not just the look but also the operation of the vehicle.

Another added feature is the ability of the technology to allow designers and engineers from around the world to collaborate in real-time.

“HoloLens allows a whole team of people to collaborate, share and experience ideas together. Mixing virtual and physical models is exciting, because it helps our designers and engineers communicate effectively and ideate to see what the future looks like earlier in the process. This allows great freedom and efficiency in how prototypes are created or changed,” says Elizabeth Baron, Ford virtual reality and advanced visualization technical specialist.