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The car they couldn’t see

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If you’ve ever seen a car covered in bizarre swirls, mind‑bending patterns, or crazy squiggles then the chances are you’ve seen a top secret new prototype with a special coating of camouflage stickers.

Designed to deceive industry spies hoping to catch a glimpse of new cars being tested on public roads, these designs create an optical illusion, making it extremely hard for eyes to focus on the outlines.

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Ford’s latest 3D “Brick” camouflage, inspired in part by popular online illusions, uses thousands of seemingly randomly placed black, grey and white cylinders in a chaotic criss-cross pattern. This makes it especially difficult to discern new exterior features in sunlight, whether seen in person or on the millions of photographs and selfies that are posted to the internet.

“Almost everyone has a smartphone now and can share photos instantly – making it easy for anyone, including our rivals, to see vehicles in testing,” said Lars Muehlbauer, manager, Camouflage, Ford of Europe. “The designers create beautiful cars with cool design features. Our job is to keep those features hidden.”

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New vehicles are tested on public roads as part of a rigorous development process. Each new camouflage takes around two months to develop and is then printed on superlight vinyl stickers, which are thinner than a human hair, and that are uniquely applied to each vehicle. Designs are first tested on a closed Ford test track to ensure the camouflage does the job.

“I tried to create a design which is chaotic and that confuses the eyes,” said Marco Porceddu, vehicle prototype engineer, Product Development, Ford of Europe, who developed the new camouflage. “I researched optical illusions on the internet and came up with a shape that could be copied and overlapped thousands of times. This creates both an optical illusion and a 3D effect.”

Designed to withstand extreme temperatures, Ford’s camouflage blends in with winter environments in Europe while sand colours are used in Australia and South America.

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“This camouflage will stand out in almost any environment, but it’s designed to destroy the integrity of the vehicle’s shape, surfaces and colour, delaying your brain’s ability to recognise it, or its key features by sight,” said Martin Stevens, Associate Professor, University of Exeter; who has studied Animal Coloration and Camouflage for almost 15 years. “The optical illusion doesn’t prevent the car being seen, but plays with your ability to measure depth of field and shadows, making it difficult to see shapes and car features. It is a trick used in nature to get away from something or to hide that is equally useful to a car test driver.”

Cars

Why sports cars make us feel good

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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 *
Roller Coaster 3
Driving 2.1
Shopping 1.7
Game of Thrones 1.5
Football Game 1.5
Kissing 0
Salsa Dancing 0
Dining 0

* Average number of high-intensity buzz moments per participant

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Car that sees round corners

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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.

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