Ford’s design teams have swapped out their clay-sculpting tools — a staple of the automotive world since the 1930s, when Harley Earl introduced them at General Motors — for mixed reality headsets and visualization software. Ford Motor Company on Thursday unveiled details about its use of Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality technology in the automotive design process.
Unlike with the clay models, which can weigh 5,000 or more pounds, designers with HoloLens can make instant changes to side mirrors, grilles, interiors and other vehicle elements. And they can do so without even getting their hands dirty.
Ford has been working with Microsoft’s HoloLens technology at its Dearborn, Michigan, studios for the past year. The mixed reality tech has allowed designers to consider proposed virtual design elements as if the additions were part of a physical vehicle. It has allowed engineers to see different shapes, sizes and even textures on vehicles. These displays can be rendered in minutes or hours, whereas using clay models to evaluate the same changes would take weeks or even months.
Ford is not the only automaker to utilize HoloLens technology. Microsoft and Volvo Cars in 2015 announced a partnership that would allow buyers to stay in the physical world while being able to browse an augmented reality show room that highlighted car customization options, and even allowed potential car buyers take part in virtual test drives.