Ford Taps into Tron-like Tech for Designing its Vehicles
Gravity Sketch 3D virtual reality tool enables designers to develop more human-centric designs.
From a desk at the Ford Design Studio, a designer enters a virtual room and begins a 3D sketch. He is designing a virtual car around himself and adjusting the attributes to best suit him: the driver. This work is part of Ford’s latest exploration of a new process that places the customer at the center of design and can help reduce the time it takes to create a vehicle.
Ford is the first automaker to work with Gravity Sketch, a 3D virtual reality tool that enables designers to create more human-centric vehicle design. Designers trade in their sketch pads for a headset and controllers to become immersed in virtual reality, imitating gestural interactions through motion tracking that replicates sketching with pen and paper.
Michael Smith, Ford design manager, says seeing all angles of a vehicle as it is being drawn truly unleashes creativity and fosters development of human-centric design from start to finish.
“Jumping right into 3D gives us a 360-degree view of a vehicle as it is being created,” he says.
Traditional automotive design begins with a 2D sketch that’s then scanned to produce a high-quality illustration. Once these renderings are evaluated, a few are translated into data using computer-aided design software to create a 3D model. That model is transferred into a virtual reality environment for further evaluation and to determine the design’s feasibility. This can take weeks, meaning designers need to be extremely selective about which designs make it to the 3D modeling stage.
‘This application moves the entire process into the world of virtual reality, giving us greater options for reviewing more models in the 3D environment to create the best possible vehicles.’
Gravity Sketch allows designers to speed the process from weeks to hours, skipping the 2D stage and working with a 3D model from the beginning. Designers can anchor a driver at the center, rotating their 3D design to view it from any angle to create a scalable vehicle around their driver. They can even step inside the vehicle sketch to quickly adjust design attributes to best suit occupants. Gravity Sketch enables Ford designers to place the customer at the very center of the vehicle as designers are sketching it.
“This application has the potential to help ensure we are delivering the very best vehicle designs for our customers,” said Smith. “It moves the entire process into the world of virtual reality, giving us greater options for reviewing more models in the 3D environment to create the best possible vehicles.”
Across five global Ford design studios, dozens of interior and exterior designers are now experimenting with Gravity Sketch for workflow feasibility and its potential for real-time co-creation and collaboration. Shifting to a model that designs and evaluates in virtual reality could revolutionize the entire process by drastically reducing development time and allowing for more 3D representations in the evaluation stage.