Ford Motor Company is using new technology to fine-tune sound inside a vehicle's cabin, part of a continuing effort by the U.S. automaker to deliver industry-leading quietness and refinement with minimal noise, vibration and harshness.
The Virtual Vehicle Sound Simulator can shave valuable time and cost out of the vehicle development process. Calibrating cabin sound in the virtual world reduces the amount of real-world testing needed in the wind tunnels and on the test track once vehicles reach the prototype stage.
The new technology gives Ford sound engineers capabilities similar to their visual counterparts, who are doing groundbreaking work with virtual reality and animation software--creating immersive experiences that allow designers to virtually sit in vehicles during the computer design process.
With the audio technology, engineers also predict sounds based on digital drawings of the vehicle and then combine those sounds into a realistic simulation. For the first time, engineers can hear what a vehicle would sound like under different road conditions, at various speeds and in a range of gear and throttle conditions as the simulated vehicle shifts, accelerates and decelerates.
Previously, Ford engineers would test the sound quality of specific components one at a time, playing back and measuring the sound of each component under a single drive condition. Now engineers can hear the way a vehicle's interior sounds in real-time under dozens of drive conditions simply by clicking through them. This ensures that the sound quality of the individual parts work in harmony with each other for a holistic analysis of the sound data.
Ford engineers also can make comparisons against competitive vehicles with a simple click of the mouse. It allows them to perfect and enhance interior sounds from the earliest stages, which will help Ford to improve vehicle sound year after year.
Based on software from the aerospace and video gaming industries, the sound simulator also is proving to be the ideal tool to gather consumer research. Ford asks consumer test groups to don the headphones and provide feedback on the sound of vehicles. In past testing, vehicles stripped of their branding would be put to the consumer test, but consumers often still recognized the make of the vehicle they were driving. Now, consumers can rate Ford vehicles they can't even drive yet in the real world.