Ford is more than ever now integrating VR into the way it designs its vehicles, and is now starting to explore how the technology could change the retail experience.
The advent of virtual reality (VR) technology is predicted to fundamentally change the way we live over the coming decades.
Cinemas will immerse audiences in VR movies, patients will undergo VR treatment and customers will enter the world of the products or services they are interested in, enabling a whole new dimension to the idea of sampling, or trying new things out. Cars are no different.
More than ever before, says Ford, it is integrating VR into the way it designs its vehicles, and is now starting to explore how the technology could change the retail experience.
“It really is a blank canvas,” said Jeffrey Nowak, global digital experience chief, Ford Motor Company.“ It is easy to imagine that someone who wants to buy an SUV could experience taking that car for a test drive over desert dunes without leaving the comfort of their home. Likewise, if you’re in the market for a city car you could be at home, relaxing in your PJs and fit in trying out the peak-time school run after you’ve put the kids to bed.”
Shoppers online can already try before they buy to find out how new glasses or clothes might suit them, or even what a new car might look like outside their home. But according to Sheryl Connelly, Ford global trend and futuring manager, they are also sometimes baffled by an overwhelming choice that leads to “Decider’s Dilemma”.
“With the internet, consumers face an abundance of choice – impacting their attitudes toward commitment,” said Connelly. “Products and services are adapting to accommodate a ‘sampling society’ that prioritises trying over buying.”
The biggest trigger of car sales, after practical financial issues, is “purely emotional” and the test drive can be a crucial “first date” for the shopper and their potential next car. By enabling customers to try out different models at a time and place to suit them – and for as long as they want – VR could also mean customers have a much clearer idea of which car they want before they even step into a dealership. It could even enable customers to experience the unique new car smell of their preferred vehicle.
Ford is currently exploring the potential of a range of virtual and augmented reality technologies to layer digital holograms onto the real world that could within the next decade allow people to interact with every aspect of products at their convenience.
“We envisage that one day a customer could identify the model they are interested in – from the colour, to the exact finish of their interior – and the time and place they would like to simulate,” said Nowak. “That scenario could then be recreated on a bespoke basis. There really is no limit to the depth of detail. The possibilities are endless.”
Ford already makes extensive use of VR in design. A state-of-the-art facility within the Design Studio, in Cologne, in Germany, allows designers to fully experience a vehicle without the need for a physical prototype. This enables them to perfect the look of high quality materials, craftsmanship and finish more quickly and efficiently. For the all-new Ford Fiesta, designers were able to experience and confirm location of vehicle controls, dashboard layout and seating positions.
“People decide within three minutes if they love a product or not, and it is the same for your car,” said Amko Leenarts, Ford’s head of global interior design operations. “From the moment you get in, you form connections with the smell, the feel of the surfaces, or the sound of the car door closing and it’s very powerful if we – as designers – can help create the perfect experience for the customer.”
Why sports cars make us feel good
Forget romance, fine dining or an epic boxset binge – new preliminary research reveals that driving a sports car on a daily basis is among the best ways to boost your sense of wellbeing and emotional fulfilment.
The study measured “buzz moments” – peak thrills that play a vital role in our overall wellness – as volunteers cheered on their favourite football team, watched a gripping Game of Thrones episode, enjoyed a passionate kiss with a loved one or took an intense salsa dancing class. Only the occasional highs of riding a roller coaster ranked higher than the daily buzz of a commute in a sports car.
Working with neuroscientists and designers, Ford brought the research to life with the unique Ford Performance Buzz Car: a customised Ford Focus RS incorporating wearable and artificial intelligence technology to animate the driver’s emotions in real time across the car’s exterior.
Watch the video here https://youtu.be/AFpt6jziFsU
“A roller coaster may be good for a quick thrill, but it’s not great for getting you to work every day,” said Dr Harry Witchel, Discipline Leader in Physiology. “This study shows how driving a performance car does much more than get you from A to B – it could be a valuable part of your daily wellbeing routine.”
Study participants who sat behind the wheel of a Ford Focus RS, Focus ST or Mustang experienced an average of 2.1 high-intensity buzz moments during a typical commute; this compared with an average of 3 buzz moments while riding on a roller coaster, 1.7 while on a shopping trip, 1.5 each while watching a Game of Thrones episode or a football match, and none at all while salsa dancing, fine dining or sharing a passionate kiss.
For the research, Ford took one Focus RS and worked with Designworks to create the Buzz Car:
From concept, design and installation to software development and programming, the Buzz Car took 1,400 man-hours to create. Each “buzz moment” experienced by the driver – analysed using a real-time “emotional AI” system developed by leading empathic technology firm Sensum – produces a dazzling animation across almost 200,000 LED lights integrated into the car. The Buzz Car also features:
- High-performance Zotac VR GO gaming PC
- 110 x 500-lumen daylight-bright light strips
- 82 display panels with 188,416 individually addressable LEDs
Driver state research
Researchers at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany are already looking into how vehicles can better understand and respond to drivers’ emotions. As part of the EUfunded ADAS&ME project, Ford experts are investigating how in-car systems may one day be aware of our emotions – as well as levels of stress, distraction and fatigue – providing prompts and warnings, and could even take control of the car in emergency situations.
“We think driving should be an enjoyable, emotional experience,” said Dr Marcel Mathissen, research scientist at Ford of Europe. “The driver-state research Ford and its partners are undertaking is helping to lead us towards safer roads and – importantly – healthier driving.”
|Activity||Buzz Moments *|
|Game of Thrones||1.5|
* Average number of high-intensity buzz moments per participant
Car that sees round corners
Jaguar Land Rover is leading a £4.7 million (approximately R79 million) project to develop self-driving cars that can ‘see’ at blind junctions and through obstacles.
Britain’s biggest carmaker is leading a project called AutopleX to combine connected, automated and live mapping tech so more information is provided earlier to the self-driving car. This enables automated cars to communicate with all road users and obstacles where there is no direct view, effectively helping them see, so they can safely merge lanes and negotiate complex roundabouts autonomously.
Chris Holmes, Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Research Manager at Jaguar Land Rover said: “This project is crucial in order to bring self-driving cars to our customers in the near future. Together with our AutopleX partners, we will merge our connected and autonomous research to empower our self-driving vehicles to operate safely in the most challenging, real-world traffic situations. This project will ensure we deliver the most sophisticated and capable automated driving technology.”
Jaguar Land Rover is developing fully- and semi-automated vehicle technologies, offering customers a choice of an engaged or automated drive, while maintaining an enjoyable and safe driving experience. The company’s vision is to make the self-driving car viable in the widest range of real-life, on- and off-road driving environments and weather.
AutopleX will develop the technology through simulation and public road testing both on motorways and in urban environments in the West Midlands. Highways England, INRIX, Ricardo, Siemens, Transport for West Midlands and WMG at the University of Warwick join the AutopleX consortium, which was announced as part of Innovate UK’s third round of Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Funding in March 2018.