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AR cuts design time at Ford

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Ford is expanding testing of Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality technology globally to gain speed in designing more stylish vehicles for its customers.

Ford designers have been swapping some clay-sculpting steels and rakes for mixed reality headsets and visualization software that can change vehicle design elements – side mirrors, grilles, vehicle interiors and more – in mere seconds.

Designers have been piloting Microsoft HoloLens technology for a year now in Ford’s Dearborn studios in the US, allowing them to see proposed virtual design elements as if these pieces were part of physical vehicles. They’ve been able to explore different shapes, sizes and textures of future vehicle attributes in minutes and hours instead of the weeks and months it can take to create clay models. And now, Ford is expanding this pioneering testing across the globe.

“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,” says Jim Holland, Ford vice president, vehicle component and systems engineering. “Microsoft HoloLens is a powerful tool for designers as we continue to reimagine vehicles and mobility experiences in fast-changing times.”

HoloLens technology uses mixed reality, which enables designers to see holograms in photo-quality backdrops through wire-free headsets. They can scroll and preview at the flick of a finger through numerous design variations projected virtually onto an actual car 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.”

Seeing the future

As designers wearing headsets move around an actual vehicle, the Microsoft HoloLens scans and maps the environment far more accurately than GPS to render holograms and images from the angle at which the vehicle is being viewed. A Windows 10 computer embedded in the headsets brings the power of the operating system to a holographic device that is untethered, wearable and mobile. Traditionally, designers and engineers have to wear headsets that rely on cables tethered to a PC.

Designers see 3D holographic images of themes and features as though these elements were already part of the vehicle – allowing them to quickly evaluate the design, make changes, and determine styling options earlier in development.

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

Ford has adapted HoloLens technology to enable designers to collaborate with engineers to better understand the customer experience, too. For example, the technology allows a designer and engineer to evaluate in near-real time how a new side mirror looks aesthetically, as well as the customer’s view of the vehicle’s surroundings.

Whereas today it can take days, even weeks, to study a grille design, HoloLens allows designers and engineers to explore a variety of different iterations in a matter of hours. The headsets can even be synced to allow multiple team members to view a design simultaneously, making collaboration easy. They can also record audio notes – high-tech “sticky notes” – for team members working in other time zones or off-site.

Beyond the global design test, Ford is investigating how to bring HoloLens technology into more engineering development processes to further bolster the company’s lead in using advanced visualization technologies such as virtual reality.

“HoloLens allows a whole team of people to collaborate, share and experience ideas together,” says Elizabeth Baron, Ford virtual reality and advanced visualization technical specialist. “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.”

Cars

Porsche names e-car

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Series production of the first purely electric Porsche is set to begin next year. 

In preparation, the vehicle has now been given its official name: The “Mission E” concept study, the name currently used to describe Porsche’s complete electric offering, will be known as the Taycan. The name can be roughly translated as “lively young horse”, referencing the imagery at the heart of the Porsche crest, which has featured a leaping steed since 1952. 

“Our new electric sports car is strong and dependable; it’s a vehicle that can consistently cover long distances and that epitomises freedom”, says Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG. The oriental name also signifies the launch of the first electric sports car with the soul of a Porsche. Porsche announced the name for its first purely electric series as part of the “70 years of sports cars” ceremony.

Two permanently excited synchronous motors (PSM) with a system output of over 600 hp (440 kW) accelerate the electric sports car to 100 km/h in well under 3.5 seconds and to 200 km/h in under twelve seconds. This performance is in addition to a continuous power level that is unprecedented among electric vehicles: Multiple jump starts are possible in succession without loss of performance, and the vehicle’s maximum range is over 500 km in accordance with the NEDC.

Names with meaning 

At Porsche, the vehicle names generally have a concrete connection with the corresponding model and its characteristics: The name Boxster describes the combination of the boxer engine and roadster design; Cayenne denotes fieriness, the Cayman is incisive and agile, and the Panamera offers more than a standard Gran Turismo, which is what allowed it to win the Carrera Panamericana long-distance race. The name Macan is derived from the Indonesian word for tiger, with connotations of suppleness, power, fascination and dynamics.

Future investment doubled 

Porsche plans to invest more than six billion euro in electromobility by 2022, doubling the expenditure that the company had originally planned. Of the additional three billion euro, some 500 million euro will be used for the development of Taycan variants and derivatives, around one billion euro for electrification and hybridisation of the existing product range, several hundred million for the expansion of production sites, plus around 700 million euro for new technologies, charging infrastructure and smart mobility.

Extensive modifications at tHQ 

At the Porsche headquarters in Zuffenhausen, a new paint shop, dedicated assembly area for the Taycan and a conveyor bridge for transporting the painted bodies and drive units to the final assembly area are currently being constructed. The existing engine plant is being expanded to manufacture electric drives and the body shop will also be developed. Investment is also planned for the Weissach Development Centre. Production of the Taycan is creating around 1,200 new jobs in Zuffenhausen alone.

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Cars

Autonomous goes off-road

Jaguar Land Rover is developing autonomous cars capable of all-terrain, off-road driving in any weather condition. 

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The CORTEX project will take self-driving cars off-road, ensuring they are fully capable in any weather condition: dirt, rain, ice, snow or fog. As part of the project, a “5D” technique combining acoustic, video, radar, light detection and distance sensing (LiDAR) data live in real-time is being engineered. Access to this combined data improves the awareness of the environment the car is in. Machine-learning enables the self-driving car to behave in an increasingly sophisticated way, allowing it to handle any weather condition on any terrain.

“It’s important that we develop our self-driving vehicles with the same capability and performance customers expect from all Jaguars and Land Rovers,” said Chris Holmes, Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Research Manager at Jaguar Land Rover.

“Self-driving is an inevitability for the automotive industry and ensuring that our autonomous offering is the most enjoyable, capable and safe is what drives us to explore the boundaries of innovation. CORTEX gives us the opportunity to work with some fantastic partners whose expertise will help us realise this vision in the near future.”

Jaguar Land Rover is developing fully- and semi-automated vehicle technologies, offering customers a choice of the level of automation, while maintaining an enjoyable and safe driving experience. This project forms part of the company’s vision to make the self-driving car viable in the widest range of real-life, on- and off-road driving environments and weather.

CORTEX will develop the technology through algorithm development, sensor optimisation and physical testing on off-road tracks in the UK. The University of Birmingham, with its world leading research in radar and sensing for autonomous platforms and Myrtle AI, machine learning experts, join the project. CORTEX was announced as part of Innovate UK’s third round of Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Funding in March 2018.

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