Ford has become the latest manufacturer to preview upcoming virtual reality (VR) technology that it will use to transform the way customers test drive and buy cars.
The company said in a release this week it is exploring a range of virtual and augmented reality technologies to layer digital holograms onto the real world that could be available within the next decade, allowing customers to interact with every aspect of products at their convenience.
“It really is a blank canvas. It is easy to imagine that someone who wants to buy an SUV could experience taking that car for a test drive over desert dunes without leaving the comfort of their home,” said Jeffrey Nowak, Ford’s global chief of digital experience.
“Likewise, if you’re in the market for a city car, you could be at home, relaxing in your PJs and fit in trying out the peak-time school run after you’ve put the kids to bed.”
“We envisage that one day a customer could identify the model they are interested in – from the colour, to the exact finish of their interior – and the time and place they would like to simulate. There really is no limit to the depth of detail. The possibilities are endless,” he added.
The company has created a facility called the Ford immersive Virtual Environment (FiVE) lab at its Asia Pacific Product Development Centre in Melbourne, which allows designers to fully experience a vehicle without the need for a physical prototype.
With the FiVE lab, perfecting the look of materials, craftsmanship and finish is able to be completed quicker and more efficiently, and form part of Ford’s engineering processes which use computer-generated environments and engineering to accurately model anything from the entire vehicle to minute details before actually building prototypes.
Ford’s virtual modelling contributes to everything from aerodynamics to safety, while also allowing designers and engineers to optimise systems and components far earlier in the development process, meaning prototypes can be created far closer to the finished product.
Amko Leenarts, head of global interior design operations at Ford, said: “People decide within three minutes if they love a product or not, and it is the same for your car”.
“From the moment you get in, you form connections with the smell, the feel of the surfaces, or the sound of the car door closing and it’s very powerful if we, as designers, can help create the perfect experience for the customer.”
This latest announcement comes after German marque Audi showcased its virtual customer experience last September, which uses commercial headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift to give consumers a 360-degree VR view of the vehicle of their choice – right down to the colour, options and interior trims.
Audi’s system is already undergoing a trial program in six dealerships in Germany, with the final development of the technology expected to take another two years.