Dearborn, Michigan - Design, especially car design, is by its very nature a process of trial and error. The original drawings look great but from certain angles the clay model doesn’t cut it or, worse still, something may not line up.
It may need to be a little wider here, a little flatter there; small (and sometimes not so small!) changes that will have a radical effect on the final shape of the car. And then there are the inevitable facelifts (the market demands them) and upgraded, sporty models with special, deeper bumpers and streamlined mirrors.
It is possible to take the old part off and create a clay mockup on an existing car but it’s time-consuming and not always accurate - so Microsoft has come up with a way of using holograms to overlay virtual changes on existing, real objects. That way you can see what it looks like from any angle and make changes in seconds that would normally take days or weeks - and discard them if they don’t work.
It’s called HoloLens, and it lets designers wearing wireless mixed-reality headsets headsets see digital designs and parts via visualisation software, as if they were already bolted onto a physical vehicle; they can change vehicle design elements – side mirrors, grilles, vehicle interiors and more – in seconds.
Ford’s designers have been piloting HoloLens technology for a year in Ford’s Dearborn studios, and now it’s being rolled out around the world.
“It’s amazing,” said Ford vice-president for vehicle component and systems engineering Jim Holland. “We can combine the old and the new – clay models and holograms – in a way that both saves time and allows designers to experiment quickly and dream up even more stylish, cars. “It’s a powerful tool for designers as we continue to reimagine cars in fast-changing times.”
HoloLens lets designers see holograms in photo-quality backdrops, scroll and preview at the flick of a finger through different designs projected virtually onto an actual car or clay model. And the same projection can be shown on any number of synced headsets - like a conference call, designers anywhere in the world can see, discuss and co-operate on the same design changes and previews.
As designers wearing headsets move around an actual car, the HoloLens scans and maps the environment far more accurately than GPS to render holograms and images from the angle that you’re looking at. A Windows 10 computer built into each headset frees the wearer from having to be tethered to a PC.
The designers see 3D holographic images of parts as though they were already part of the vehicle, so they can quickly evaluate the design, make changes, and determine styling options earlier in development.
“We can flip through virtual representations to decide which is the right way to go,” said design manager Michael Smith. “As a designer, you want to show, not just tell. This is much more compelling.”
The technology also helps designers to collaborate with engineers on real-world issues. For example, a new side mirror design may look very pretty - the HoloLens will show you exactly what the driver will be able to see in it, without have to make clay mock-up and glue a temporary mirror onto the car.
It used to take days, even weeks, to develop a grille design - now designers and engineers can explore a variety of different designs in a matter of hours.
“Mixing virtual and physical models allows a whole team of people to collaborate, share and experience ideas together,” said virtual reality and advanced visualisation technical specialist Elizabeth Baron. “It give them the freedom to try out ideas and see what the future looks like, earlier in the process.”