Model T vs. Tesla
Henry Ford did not invent the automobile or the assembly line, but he had a vision about how to build better ones. In the beginning, he and his team started out with the first version of the Model A, which sort of looked like a giant baby carriage with a steering wheel. This model served kicked off a series of production models and prototypes that took them to the letter T. The result was a not just a car, but an entire assembly line capable of mass producing the Model T in a way that became increasingly cheaper and more efficient. The last Model T rolled off of the Ford line in 1927 after sold more than 16.5 million units (still ranks 8th all time on the list of most cars sold).
While Henry and his boys were incredibly adept at taking the images from their minds and putting them into practice, the design process was time consuming and often frustrating. Imagine if they could have strapped on VR headsets and built their prototypes in virtual space. Virtual reality is now being used by all of the major automakers and has moved from being a concept to an integral part of the production process.
Ford and Virtual Reality
Ford was the first automaker to use new ultrahigh definition, virtual lab to enable its designers and engineers to collaborate globally on vehicle designs in real-time. Launched back in 2013, “Ford’s Immersive Vehicle Environment,” or the “FIVE”, is a Mission Impossible-like room that is loaded sensors and 52 motion-capture markers are placed on a FIVE user’s body. This sophisticated setup records more than 5,000 data points that accurately capture a user’s body position, posture, and movements. Ford even uses 3D printing technology to recreate machinery that is equipped with sensors. FIVE users can then interact with these props so that calculations can be made regarding hand clearance and safety. It has been reported that the usage of the FIVE has reduced employee injuries by 70% and ergonomic issues have fallen by 90%.
The FIVE experience often begins with a blank canvas where users can sketch in virtual reality. This kicks off the ideation process and speeds up the design process by giving designers the freedom to create without the limitations of physical prototyping. CAD models can be imported into the experience and professional animations are also used to enhance the virtual reality experience. Surfaces, colors, and textures can all be fine-tuned with a wave of a magic wand.
The purpose of the entire FIVE project is to offer a representative platform to facilitate the collaboration of Ford employees located all over the world. The results speak for themselves as it was measured back in 2013 that designers and engineers inspected 135,000 details in virtual space. The usage of the FIVE has doubled every year, so it is clear that virtual has already transformed the way Ford produces cars and the economic benefits are significant and growing.
Ford FIVE Lab
VR for VW
Volkswagen is the world’s second largest car manufacturer and recently claimed to be the first to introduce VR technology using the HTC Vive. While it is not news that VW has an interest in VR, it has chosen to adapt existing technologies rather than build an expensive, custom built system like the FIVE. Although the FIVE has amazing capabilities, only two people can be immersed in virtual reality at the same time, while the others must settle for watching and texting. The move to HTC Vive signals just how far how far VR and its supporting technologies have come in the past few years. Imagine the savings in cost and time of using a HTC Vive rather than sticking 52 motion caption markers all over a person’s body. VW now plans to make VR available to all of its employees in order to facilitate better collaboration within and across its core functional areas.
Toyota Uses VR for Safety Training and Prius Pumping
Toyota created the TeenDrive365 distracted driving simulator using the Oculus back in 2015 to help teens to experience the reality of driving before sitting behind an actual steering wheel. The VR experience uses the range of distractions such as traffic noises, a loud radio, text messages, and even a few annoying friends. This initiative demonstrates how VR is being used a serious tool to help educate younger drivers in a more entertaining and engaging way.
Back in 2016, Toyota wanted to create a campaign to make the Prius seem a little less nerdy and a bit more cutting edge. With the help of Saatchi & Saatchi and Syd Mead, the creator of the vehicles from Blade Runner and Tron, Toyota combined the HTC Vive and an actual seat and steering wheel from the Prius to allow users to drive through the imagination of Syd Mead. While we are not exactly sure how many people bought a Prius because of this experience, we are sure that it is better than the 2016 Prius Super Bowl commercial that was voted by many as the “worst commercial”.
The VR Game Has Just Begun
Ford has certainly gotten serious about virtual reality and their FIVE platform is a highly advanced way to immerse people into the virtual design process. As we have explored, however, this system comes with a hefty prices tag and we have seen “off the shelf” hardware and software technologies hit the market in recent years offering similar functionalities. That is not to say that the HTC Vive is a match for the FIVE right now, but the gap is rapidly closing and VR technology will become more widely adopted within the entire automotive supply chain as it gets better and cheaper. Similarly, with VR content creation, we recognize the fact that not every company has the ability to make Hollywood quality content with agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi and film legends like Syd Mead. Not to worry as the ability to create amazing VR content is being taken from the hands of the few and put into the hands of the many. Please recall our earlier blog, “5 Great Ways to Design in Virtual Space”, where we reviewed different ways how users can use VR to design professionally and cost effectively.
Henry Ford acknowledged that he made the famous comment “any color so long as it is black” in a meeting back in 1909. During this meeting, he went on further to say that
“There is a tendency to keep monkeying with styles and to spoil a good thing by changing it. The salesmen were insistent on increasing the line. They listened to the 5 percent, the special customers who could say what they wanted, and forgot all about the 95 percent, who just bought without making any fuss.”
Please remember that back in 1909, people who wanted a car did not have a lot to choose from. The entire concept of owning a car was far more focused on practicality rather than originality. Henry hated the idea of wasting resources on “cosmetics” since they were costly, time consuming, and catered to a small fraction of his customer base.
Let’s fast forward to today where a customer looking to buy a new car has a huge range of makes and model to choose from. While performance and service records are important, design and style also factor heavily into the decision making process. Younger generations are now growing up with the idea that customization is a “must have” rather than a “nice to have” feature when buying a car. In order to move beyond Ford’s “Model T” mentality, automakers must develop and adopt technologies that can simultaneously satisfy the needs of their customers and achieve business objectives.
The ability to design in virtual space is transforming the automotive industry that has been limited to the cost and complexities associated with physical prototyping. The automotive industry, however, is not alone as industries like healthcare must also develop better and more cost effective ways to design and bring their products to market. In our next blog, we will explore and virtual reality is changing the face of the healthcare industry.
Model T and Tesla. Car and Driver Magazine, January 2014
Volkswagen Virtual Reality, July 5th, 2017
Toyota TeenDrive365, October 14th, 2014
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