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How Ford's Virtual Reality Lab Helps Engineers 49

Posted by samzenpus
from the is-this-real? dept.
cartechboy (2660665) writes "Facebook bought OculusVR and the world tilted a little on its axis. But good old Ford has been using VR all along without much fanfare. VR tech effectively gives Ford engineers X-ray vision, so they can — virtually — see through a vehicle's structure, which helps to design mechanical hardware, and spot issues with designs that might interfere with vehicle 'hard points.' Ford's engineers also use VR headsets to check out exterior and interior designs of cars that don't exist in the physical world — at least not yet. Team members walk around virtual cars to preview designs, or "get in" to check if interior layouts will work in the real world."
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How Ford's Virtual Reality Lab Helps Engineers

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    And yet you still need to remove motor mounts, rotate the engine forward, and take off a wheel to remove sparkplugs.

    • At least all under-hood service procedures don't start with 'remove front bumper' like new beetles.

    • Re:All this.... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Immerman (2627577) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @12:18PM (#46615211)

      Well, if you just had X-ray vision and trans-substantial tools like the Authorized Ford Dealerships it wouldn't be such an issue.

      You've gotta admit, when it comes to proprietary lock in it's pretty damned effective to have "raise the body 3 feet" be step one in the official repair manual.

    • It's a conspiracy with car repair shops! What if these procedures were so simple that people could do them at home? We just can't have that.
      • by causality (777677)

        It's a conspiracy with car repair shops! What if these procedures were so simple that people could do them at home? We just can't have that.

        Consider that the Joe Sixpacks of automobiles tend to get their cars serviced at the same branded dealerships from which the car was purchased, and this becomes simple two-party collusion between the dealership owner and the car company allowing them to use the logos.

      • Re:All this.... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by HornWumpus (783565) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @01:20PM (#46615559)

        Removing/loosening motor mounts, putting the car into gear and pushing it forward/backward to shift the engine a cm or so and gain clearance is SOP for working on transverse engine, front wheel drives. You can do it in your driveway.

        • by pepty (1976012)
          It would be nice if Ford decided that engine mounts lasting more than 30,000 miles should be SOP too. I'm looking at you, Ford/Mazda passenger side mount that was too loose when it was new and now has cracked and burped hydraulic fluid all over everything near it ...
  • Car manufacturers have always been great innovators in technology. Comments about the actual products they make notwithstanding...

    http://design.osu.edu/carlson/... [osu.edu]

  • Nobody ever said VR was anything new or something, its just new in the consumer field. I had an internship years ago building stuff based on a framework by Mercedes (iirc) which had awesome vr capabilities and could essentially drive you anything from a 3d-monitor to a cave-installation with back-projections on every wall

    • New in the consumer field? I guess you weren't around in the 90s. I remember people playing Descent with consumer VR helmets back then. Boy was that nausea inducing.

      VR is one of those fads that comes and goes away every 20 years.

      • Then Nintendo did the Virtual Boy and the segment imploded.

      • Ack, that should have gone in quotation marks. I also remember my 1st encounter with "consumer-grade" stereo glasses back in the 90s where there was an exhibition and you could "bungee-jump" from some tower (essentially a vr-headset - from sony iirc - and you jumped from a small podest into a bungee gear ... pretty impressive effect though, at least for my 10 year old self ;)).

      • Apart from my other post: I think what most people are excited about is not so much the stereo vision, but that head-tracking can finally packed into the same unit with reasonable delays. Some years ago you still had to do crappy ir-cam-setups with dorky blips on your glasses for that and needed a small cluster for calculation (ok, I'm exaggerating, but you get the point)

  • The rendering frame rate of their system leaves a lot to be desired. The VR hardware looks good for their needs and usage, but that frame rate totally kills the immersion. That's inexcusable in this day and age - people have better gaming rigs than that. My guess is they have a very poorly optimized modeling system that has to pull data from whatever CAD systems they use.

    • by AndOne (815855)

      The rendering frame rate of their system leaves a lot to be desired. The VR hardware looks good for their needs and usage, but that frame rate totally kills the immersion. That's inexcusable in this day and age - people have better gaming rigs than that. My guess is they have a very poorly optimized modeling system that has to pull data from whatever CAD systems they use.

      1) The framerate doesn't need to be optimized as they're not going for immersion, but rather the ability to look things over from novel angles in a semi natural way. In fact immersion might run counter to their goals in this situation.

      2) The car models are probably extremely detailed and overmeshed even to guarantee that the model has high physical fidelity. A large amount of the performance in games that is lost in CAD is due to geometry bandwidth.

      3) Also X-Ray mode implies some pretty interesting

      • by jeti (105266)

        But a low framerate contributes to simulator sickness. It's no wonder the engineers in the video are careful to move their heads slowly.

        • by Creepy (93888)

          In the stuff I'm working on, lower resolution images are used for motion and then a high resolution image sent when the camera is still, but I work in a lower latency area meant for mobile devices. Some of my coworkers work on stuff like this.

  • Hypberbole much? So one developer got a little grumpy and decided not to start a project that hadn't even been confirmed in the first place, when third party options to run his game on Oculus already exist and work well. Nothing to see here. Move on.

    What's potentially more "axis-tilting" is Oculus getting Michael Abrash, which is probably a very good thing for them.

    Disclaimer: I don't own an Oculus. I don't particularly like Facebook and I'm not defending them. I also don't like hyperbole.

    • Ah. Facebook bought something they have no idea how to monetize just because they want to compete with Google. However immersive VR is not something you can use daily. They are going to find their user base rather thin indeed.

      This is good for gaming and certain niche applications where people are willing to enter a dedicated space and lose their peripheral vision.

  • the FB/Oculus Rift news?

    "But good old Ford has been using VR all along without much fanfare".

    Exactly.

  • What on a practical level is this helping?

    They designed the VW bug without this kind of technology.

    Something tells me that car quality has more to do with design choices and corner cutting, materials and manufacture, than visualization.

    Or am I just a grandpa who should GTFO of technology altogether? Off my lawn...

    • You're not cynical, you're just lazy. Read the article and it explains how it's helpful.
    • Even worse; they likely designed the new 'bug' with similar technology.

    • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @01:26PM (#46615595)

      The VW bug was not designed by "they" It was designed by the Porsche company to meet political demands by Adolf Hitler, for a very simple German made car, costing less than 100 marks and with better than 40 mpg fuel consumption, capable of fitting a small family. It also incorporated previous design work by Ferdinand Porsche, which is why parts for Porsches and for VW Beetles were cross-compatible for so long.

      The design is fascinating for its _simplicity_. It's the simplicity found in designs by a master craftsman. The presence of the engine in the rear, for example, meant a much smaller and more compact transmission without the lengthy drive shaft of contemporary front engine, rear drive wheel designs. That meant less high quality, high strength, high durability steel was needed in the manufacture, which helped keep prices down. The shape of the car worked both aerodynamically, to help gas mileage, but mechanically, with shapes that were forgiving of minor manufacturing perfections, and with placementn of connectors that made the vehicle easy to repair, easy to adjust for slightly miscut or miscast components, and easy to repair.

      If you ever had the opportunity to work with one, you'd have noticed similar quality in the engine. It was _easy_ to remove if needed, and very intelligent design went into the layout so that tools could reach mounting screw or bolts and the various adjustment points for the carburetor. Its major flaw was a tendency to burn oil (which is not surprising for an engine made so inexpensively, high quality seals and tight tolerance mechanical parts cost _money_). They also had a tendency for the bottom of the car to become dangerously corroded by road salt. The broad use of road salt was nowhere near as common when these cars were designed, and would have been quite expensive to protect against. The old Beetles were so light that it was often possible to simply _lift_ or push them out of trouble when they got stuck in snow or mud: they actually floated for a while if they ever landed in water. Lifting them out of trable happened repeatedly when I was much younger and snow plows buried my old car.

      • So what you're saying is that when you get real engineers and designers to identify goals and work together, you get an efficient design without the need for all the VR crap. Instead, we hire whomever got a 4.0 but can't work a socket wrench and serve multiple masters so get a clusterfuck that achieves none of the goals and is so interdependent that it's nearly impossible to fix should anything go wrong.

        Progress!

        • > So what you're saying is that when you get real engineers and designers to identify goals and work together

          Not really. I'm saying that when you have a _master_ engineer in charge of design, with well specified goals, you can get a master work. Modern cars are profoundly more complex. From their automatic transmission, to their non-skid brakes, to their emission reduction systems, to the enhanced safety standards with airbags, to their complex radio and GPS and telephone docking systems, they've become

      • The old Beetles were so light that it was often possible to simply _lift_ or push them out of trouble when they got stuck in snow or mud: they actually floated for a while if they ever landed in water. Lifting them out of trable happened repeatedly when I was much younger and snow plows buried my old car.

        I recall many years ago in high school a great prank. An occasional supply teacher we didn't much like drove a Beetle. One day six of us lifted it from the parking lot and placed it between two trees, one touching each bumper. I never learned how he got it out.

  • I wish they had used this on my truck which has a rusted out tranny line blocked by the exhaust and supported by a stupid metal bracket that can only be accessed by removing the oil filter.

  • ...and everybody else just use Catia...

    Oh, well, what the hell.

  • I have noticed that the official narrative here at slashdot continues to be "if the American car companies are doing something, it is 1000% TEH EVIL, but if the same thing is done instead by an Asian car company, it must be embraced as the greatest thing since air".

    So go ahead, tell me how this is going to lead to the demise of civilization as we know it or perhaps even the end of mankind as a whole. Extra points if you can relate this to the Ford Pinto, the Diesel engines used by the big three in the
    • Ford stopped being an American car company about when Mulally decided to eviscerate every single American car platform from the lineup, replace them with Eurotrash, and then put the abomination of Eco-Boost on every engine (including the Mustang).

      General Motors is less so, but can still be considered American for what has been left alone. However, that isn't much given the amount of captive imports(Cruze, Sonic) and entirely converted divisions(e.g. the Opel^W Buick division).

      About the only car company lef

      • Ford stopped being an American car company about when Mulally decided to eviscerate every single American car platform from the lineup, replace them with Eurotrash

        First of all, most of those decisions were made before Mulally arrived at Ford (consider the Focus especially but the Fiesta and Fusion arguably go under that umbrella just as much). Second, those cars are better for driving, handling, and fuel economy than the mid size and smaller models that Ford had before then.

        I will concede, though, that they really should have kept the Crown Vic (and Grand Marquis / Town Car) platform going longer. They really haven't done a very good job of offering alternatives

  • You would think that with all this brainpower and technology at their disposal, Ford would have picked a partner other than Microsoft for their in car entertainment/control package (SYNC).

"A car is just a big purse on wheels." -- Johanna Reynolds

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