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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


MotorSpaceNW does Ford Virtual Reality Tour/Dearborn, MI (2)

The morning coffee was losing a slow battle to the jet lag. Luckily Ford was about to stick us in a series of virtual environments where you’d be more likely to puke than fall asleep. Team Blue arrived at the first of which shortly after being rocked hard by Powerwall, but this wasn’t a rerun of Guts, it was for cereal. 

Our shuttle taxied us to another white building on Ford’s sprawling Dearborn estate. It was time to take on the Programmable Vehicle Model (PVM)… It’s more exciting than it sounds. From the pamphlet:

“Ford’s Programmable Vehicle Model (PVM) is a sophisticated computer-controlled, adjustable device that can instantly take on the dimensions of the full-size interior of any product. This allows the engineers to evaluate multiple design options against a number of criteria, including reach, blind spots, reflections, headroom and steering wheel angle, just to name a few.” 

…It’s more exciting than it sounds. 

Inside building number two, our group arrived inside a lab of sorts. Past the table of snacks and refreshments that we would find in nearly every room we visited that day was the frame and full interior of an F-150. A Ford person selected an endearingly plump member of the press, sat him in the truck’s driver’s seat and fitted a strange goggle apparatus to his head. His hands were strapped up with fingerless hobo gloves outfitted with little white balls on the knuckle sides, the kind used in movies to capture actors’ movements for animated effects. 

Looking through the computer monitors, everything Mr. Pear saw through his headset was visible to us (Watch a press lady do the same in new videos). He swung his arm over the passenger seat to look out the truck’s rear window; we saw his animated hand grab the headrest, his line of sight expand through the rear window. 

There were cars and trucks (all Fords) driving down the street in the 3-D city. We watched the screen as he toggled his head to follow the traffic as it approached the F-150’s bed, moved past the passenger side windows, out beyond the hood and into the outlying streets. From the pamphlet:

“Before the digital era, an interior design team would build a stationary three-dimensional physical ‘buck’ to evaluate items such as seating position, headroom and steering angle. This buck lacked the flexibility to accommodate multiple design iterations during the evolution of a vehicle program – meaning that each round of design changes required either modifications to the existing buck or the construction of a new one.” 

One of Ford’s people illustrated this point with a Styrofoam molding of a dashboard faceplate for the F-150, explaining that if their team wanted to make changes to any part of the truck in the development phase, all they had to do was make such a molding and program it into the computer, versus actually building an entirely new piece for the “buck.” 

Saves time, saves money, which is why Ford is pushing to go as virtual as possible with their operations (This was a main point of the whole tour). 

When they strapped me into the 3-D attire, my first giddy instinct was to run my animated hands over the computer-generated dashboard. Visually, in the virtual environment, the knobs all had depth to them. Trippy enough, but when I reached out I could actually touch them, turn the heat up, down, reach to the cup holders, run my fingers around them, feel the texture of the upholstery, crank the steering wheel over, check my blind spot for traffic.

I puked into the cup holders. 

Not really. 

The real $10 million puke machine was at our next stop. Inside Ford’s Virtual Test Track Experiment (VIRTTEX), when you whirl out of your lane to pass a semi-truck on the left, your car dips to the right. Slam on the brakes and the entire spherical environment lurches forward and down with 12feet of travel horizontally, 2 feet vertically… 

We’re going to need bigger cup holders. 

Stay tuned.



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