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AR cuts design time at Ford

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.”

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Two-thirds of adults ready for cars that drive themselves

The latest Looking Further with Ford Trends Report reveals that behaviour is changing across key areas of our lives

Self-driving cars are a hot topic today, but if you had to choose, would you rather your children ride in an autonomous vehicle or drive with a stranger? You may be surprised to learn that 67 per cent of adults globally would opt for the self-driving car.

That insight is one of many revealed in the 2019 Looking Further with Ford Trend Report, released last week. The report takes a deep look into the drivers of behavioural change, specifically uncovering the dynamic relationships consumers have with the shifting landscape of technology.

Change is not always easy, particularly when it is driven by forces beyond our control. In a global survey of 14 countries, Ford’s research revealed that 87 per cent of adults believe technology is the biggest driver of change. And while 79 per cent of adults maintain that technology is a force for good, there are large segments of the population that have significant concerns. Some are afraid of artificial intelligence (AI). Others fear the impact of technology on our emotional wellbeing.

“Individually and collectively, these behavioural changes can take us from feeling helpless to feeling empowered, and unleash a world of wonder, hope and progress,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “At Ford we are deeply focused on human-centric design and are committed to finding mobility solutions that help improve the lives of consumers and their communities. In the context of change, we have to protect what we consider most valuable – having a trusted relationship with our customers. So, we are always deliberate and thoughtful about how we navigate change.”

Key insights from Ford’s 7th annual Trends Report:

Almost half of people around the world believe that fear drives change
Seven in 10 say that they are energised by change
87 per cent agree that technology is the biggest driver of today’s change
Eight in 10 citizens believe that technology is a force for good
45 per cent of adults globally report that they envy people who can disconnect from their devices
Seven out of 10 consumers agree that we should have a mandatory time-out from our devices

Click here to read more about the seven trends for 2019.

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At last, cars talk to traffic lights to catch ‘green wave’

By ANDRE HAINZLMAIER, head of development of apps, connected services and smart city at Audi.

Stop-and-go traffic in cities is annoying. By contrast, we are pleased when we have a “green wave” – but we catch them far too seldom, unfortunately. With the Traffic Light Information function, drivers are more in control. They drive more efficiently and are more relaxed because they know 250 meters ahead of a traffic light whether they will catch it on green. In the future, anonymized data from our cars can help to switch traffic lights in cities to better phases and to optimise the traffic flow.

In the USA, Audi customers have been using the “Time-to-Green” function for two years: if the driver will reach the lights on red, a countdown in the Audi virtual cockpit or head-up display counts the seconds to the next green phase. This service is now available at more than 5,000 intersections in the USA, for example in cities like Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland and Washington D.C. In the US capital alone, about 1,000 intersections are linked to the Traffic Light Information function.

Since February, Audi has offered a further function in North America. The purpose of this is especially to enable driving on the “green wave”. “Green Light Optimized Speed Advisory” (GLOSA) shows to the driver in the ideal speed for reaching the next traffic light on green.

Both Time-to-Green and GLOSA will be activated for the start of operation in Ingolstadt in selected Audi models. These include all Audi e-tron models and the A4, A6, A7, A8, Q3, Q7 and Q8 to be produced from mid-July (“model year 2020”). The prerequisite is the “Audi connect Navigation & Infotainment” package and the optional “camera-based traffic sign recognition”.

Why is this function becoming available in Europe two years later than in the USA? 

The challenges for the serial introduction of the service are much greater here than, for example, in the USA, where urban traffic light systems were planned over a large area and uniformly. In Europe, by contrast, the traffic infrastructure has developed more locally and decentrally – with a great variety of traffic technology. How quickly other cities are connected to this technology depends above all on whether data standards and interfaces get established and cities digitalise their traffic lights.

On this project, Audi is working with Traffic Technology Services (TTS). TTS prepares the raw data from city traffic management centres and transmits them to the Audi servers. From here, the information reaches the car via a fast Internet connection.

Audi is working to offer Traffic Light Information in further cities in Germany, Europe, Canada and the USA in the coming years. In the large east Chinese city of Wuxi, Audi and partners are testing networks between cars and traffic light systems in the context of a development project.

In future, Audi customers may be able to benefit from additional functions, for example when “green waves” are incorporated into the ideal route planning. It is also conceivable that Audi e-tron models, when cruising up to a red traffic light, will make increased used of braking energy in order to charge their batteries. Coupled with predictive adaptive cruise control (pACC), the cars could even brake automatically at red lights.

In the long term, urban traffic will benefit. When cars send anonymised data to the city, for example, traffic signals could operate more flexibly. Every driver knows the following situation: in the evening you wait at a red light – while no other car is to be seen far and wide. Networked traffic lights would then react according to demand. Drivers of other automotive brands will also profit from the development work that Audi is carrying out with Traffic Light Information – good news for cities, which are dependent on the anonymised data of large fleets to achieve the most efficient traffic management.

In future, V2I technologies like Traffic Light Information will facilitate automated driving. 

A city is one of the most complex environments for an autonomous car. Nevertheless, the vehicle has to be able to handle the situation, even in rain and snow. Data exchange with the traffic infrastructure can be highly relevant here. 

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