back to article Sure, HoloLens is cute, but Ford was making VR work before it was cool

In an era defined by Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Apple and Samsung, it's understandable, easy even, to become complacent and look only to Silicon Valley for tech innovation and leadership. Smartphones, touchscreen, mega search, the app economy... if all these things and more didn't come from a handful of US tech firms, they …

  1. Craigie

    This might go some way to explaining for uplift in Ford build quality over the last decade or so.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Build Quality

      I think that improvements in build quality are more likely due to increased use of automation/robots than VR.

      Although well outside your 'last decade or so', along with my fellow engineering students, in 1973 I visited Ford's Dagenham Plant and one of the process stages that stuck in my mind was the finishing of the join between the roof panel and the rear pillar of the Cortina Mk3; the roof panel and rear pillar had a spot-welded overlap joint and this was covered over with a metal filler (which actually looked like solder) and then manually ground smooth with angle-grinders to produce the final shape or form. The grinding was done purely by eye and each worker on the line had their own aesthetic sense of what looked right with the result that, once you were aware of it, you could see clear variations from car to car. Less common were variations between different sides of the same vehicle and I speculated that these might have occurred as a result of a change of shift.

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: Build Quality

        Upvoted, because I find that fascinating and eminently believable.

        In the "believe it if you will" category, two related anecdotes come to mind.

        The first is something I read about Ford's takeover of Land Rover in 2000. As they toured the Discovery production line, one of the QA practices that horrified the Ford men was the process for testing the completed vehicles for water ingress. A tech would walk round the car with a high-pressure hose; if water was found inside, the car would be sent back up the line to have that particular leak remedied, then shipped to the customer. The obvious issue of "what happens if there's more than one leak" had apparently never occurred to them.

        And the second is that old probably-an-urban legend about the Mercedes engineers at a conference in the 70s, describing their testing process for door seals. "We lock a cat in the car and leave it there overnight," they said, "and if it's dead by the morning, we know the seals are good & airtight."

        "We have something similar," said the men from British Leyland, "We lock a cat in the car, and if it's not escaped by the morning we know the seals are good enough..."

  2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge


    I feel unsure whether the designers started out or went on sitting in a wooden model of a car, or viewing a virtual car through headsets, or, both.

    Red Dwarf's "Back to Reality" episode comes to mind; so does the episode "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", but that is not polite to mention and I do so only so that you don't.

  3. Arctic fox
    Thumb Up

    A fascinating article.

    I knew that Ford had been using this approach, I just did not realise the sheer scale of it nor was I aware of Baron's great contribution. Thank you, see icon.

    1. Anonymous Custard
      Thumb Up

      Re: A fascinating article.

      Indeed, great to see someone using stuff like this to solve a real world problem, and to push things forward when they need to be pushed.

      Makes a pleasant change from all of the solutions looking for problems in this kind of area.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The majority of folks at Ford weren't convinced of the value of simulation," Baron told me in a recent interview. "They'd tell me: 'If it could do X, that'd make my job easier.' So I'd work with them to solve that specific problem."

    Sounds suspiciously... Agile to me.

  5. Cederic Silver badge

    She must have remarkable persistence, to go with that innovation and technical skill.

    I like hearing about people like this, thank you.

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    "You explain, I don't get it. You show me, I understand" Simple idea. 2-3 decades to achieve

    And that's a hell of an achievement. To keep at it. To never quit.

    As for Ford's spending didn't the go through 2 USG bailouts in the last 3 decades?

    BTW Notice how much of that was "back end" data synchronization, reducing the amount of "massaging" to get the data sources compatible etc.

    TBH I always suspected that for something as big as a car you'd need some kind of physical mockup. I think we are are just starting to get to the point where it can be fully virtual.

  7. aussie-alan

    Caterpillar was using VR earlier than this

    Caterpillar was designing heavy equipment in the VR CAVE environment in 1995, at NCSA (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). They used an SGI system with multiple graphic pipelines and projectors, with a head mounted helmet. Ford became an NCSA member some time after that, I think it was '97 or '98 (I was in the meeting when they joined, but don't remember the date). Using VR for vehicle design is certainly not 100% original research at Ford, or unique to them.

    My former employer had sponsored a graduate student to do some visualization work int he CAVE environment too. I was managing our relationship with NCSA, lot's of interesting stuff there.

  8. handleoclast
    Thumb Up

    You've changed my mind

    For a long time I thought VR was totally pointless. I now know that is not so.

    So my opinion now is that VR is mostly pointless. There are valid use cases, like this one, but most of us will never have a real need for it (outside of games). Most of the attempts to sell it to the general public as a must-have are bollocks. But this was impressive.

  9. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    radio knobs

    A classic example in automotive design – where do you put the radio knobs?


    Touch screen operated ICEs - the units should be ripped out and bashed around the head of the UX teams who signed off on them


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