Ford adds Microsoft HoloLens to development toolbox
Mix reality tech will improve global collaboration and cut development times.
Jon WongFormer editor for CNET Cars
Jon Wong was a reviews editor for CNET Cars. He test drove and wrote about new cars and oversaw coverage of automotive accessories and garage gear. In his spare time, he enjoys track days, caring for his fleet of old Japanese cars and searching for the next one to add to his garage.
Ford is expanding the development use of the Microsoft HoloLens headset globally in hopes of improving the collaboration among its teams and speeding up product development cycles.
Over the past year, Ford has been testing the HoloLens mixed reality headset at its Dearborn, Michigan design studios. Designers have used the new tool to explore design variations of parts like grilles, mirrors and interior layouts in mere seconds, which normally could take days or weeks using the traditional clay modeling process.
With a $5,000 HoloLens on my head, I get a demo of it in action at Ford's Dearborn Product Development Center. Once I'm signed in, I see various hologram menus and displays appear throughout the room and over the 2013 Ford Fusion sitting in the corner.
After completing a couple of "airtap" commands, I witness a number of hologram overlays projected onto the front of the Fusion showing different grille designs. Moving around lets me see the different grilles from every angle in full scale, which is helpful for designers to get vehicle proportions right.
Besides helping designers, Ford says HoloLens reviews improve the working relationship between design and engineering teams around the world when it comes to determining if a particular part is feasible and meets engineering criteria.
With the HoloLens program linking directly into Ford's CAD systems, parts that do not meet engineering standards are flagged. During the demo, a proposed Fusion side mirror is called out as too small. In seconds, the mirror is enlarged and mounting point altered until it falls within the engineering criteria.
Team members located in other time zones or offsite can also leave notes within the application about design concerns.
According to Microsoft, Ford's implementation of the HoloLens isn't the first automotive related use of the headset. Volvo has used them for light retail-related simulations, but the Ford application is the most in-depth pilot in the auto industry to date.
From the sounds of it, the HoloLens will only get bigger at the Blue Oval. A Ford spokesman says they already have a hearty list of potential applications for it.