Ford Motor Company Turns Virtual Reality into Authentic Reality with Autodesk Software

Categories: Smart manufacturing

Ford Motor Company
has a rich heritage of manufacturing automobiles for more than 100 years. Yet some may not know that Ford’s embrace of new cutting-edge technologies is changing the way automobiles and their features are designed and ultimately experienced.

Enter Ford’s immersive Vehicle Environment (FiVE) Lab, which is led by Elizabeth Baron, Ford Virtual Reality and Advanced Visualization technical specialist. The FiVE Lab allows Ford to virtually test in ultra-high definition thousands of product design details under simulated conditions. The Lab offers Ford’s global team of designers and engineers the opportunity to collaborate on those products in real-time — all with an eye on improving products and the customer experience.

The virtual environment in Ford’s FiVE Lab is enabled, in part, by Autodesk VRED 3D visualization software. For its sophisticated approach to visualization, Ford is being recognized as the Autodesk Inventing the Future recipient for September.

Autodesk seeks Inventing the Future candidates each month from its Manufacturing customer base through a brief Q&A interview on a company or individual addressing their business, products and inventive spirit. Here is what Ford’s Elizabeth Baron had to say about leveraging Autodesk software:

GTforum-59Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.


Autodesk: What does your company develop, and why is it important for the world?

Baron: Ford is a major automotive manufacturer focused on providing a great driving experience and a way of connecting people. The work that we do in the FiVE Lab enhances that experience by providing emotive designs that people connect with, helping us realize our goal of making it exciting to use our vehicles to travel from place to place in comfort and style.

We create a virtual vehicle that represents a holistic view of our product at any phase of development, then we allow our designers and engineers, our ergonomists, our mechanical engineers and anyone with a specific function or responsibility in the vehicle to check it out and assess the state of design at any point in the product development process. Our goal is to bring people together in a way that is collaborative and global, and we share this perspective with stakeholders worldwide in order to allow everyone to participate in the design.


Autodesk: How has adopting technology helped Ford evolve?

Baron: The main benefit is that the Ford employee responsible for each specific discipline can look at a vehicle with everyone else’s inputs and see the data more holistically. We can also alter any aspect of the product in real-time and have the ability to represent any potential reality for that product at any point in time in an extremely efficient manner.

This means we can test hundreds of design alternatives within one review. This was unheard of prior to doing assessments virtually. We can test 20 different alternatives for one design and 20 different alternatives for another design, put them all in different driving and environmental conditions. This all happens in the course of one review, and each one of the things we tested in potential reality could happen and become authentic reality.


Autodesk: What Autodesk software do you use and why? Are you also a subscription customer?

Baron: Part of what we’ve done for years is work to have the highest level of visual fidelity in an immersive environment to enable a quick pipeline for materializing data. Our goal is to create an extremely realistic virtual vehicle, represented properly under multiple lighting conditions, yet flexible enough to make changes to the virtual vehicle to show customers.

What Autodesk VRED does – and why it’s an excellent choice for automotive manufacturers – is deliver very high digital fidelity. I consider it the best in the industry from other tests we’ve done. The way we bring in data and our approach to creating our virtual environment is pretty streamlined, and we’ve experienced success getting data from any environment into VRED. We also have a lot of flexibility with variant sets and materials, so we can add in animations and automations into our virtual environment, represent the vehicle in any color, and create functions that a person would see when looking at the car — all with a strength of visual quality that presents us with a really powerful visualization.

When we were looking at VRED, one of the things that intrigued me the most was the ability to do ray tracing in real-time. Autodesk has confirmed that Ford is the only automotive and industrial design application using real-time ray tracing in an immersed environment with 4k displays. It is extremely powerful for our team to highlight visual quality that is emotive and attractive and that allows our customers to respond at a primary level and establish a connection with their Ford or Lincoln product. We are also an Autodesk subscription customer.


Autodesk: How do you see your virtual reality landscape evolving in five years from now generally and within your company?

Baron: The future is mixed, and in that I mean mixed reality, virtual reality and augmented reality. There is a lot of work in the industry happening on augmented reality. That space will be affected by not only what we do for engineering, but also for marketing, sales and other areas of the company. We have opportunities to leverage devices and mobile headsets in future immersive environments where you need calibrated cameras, and as these devices become simpler and easier to use, the continuum for total virtuality and total physicality will keep blurring.

Baron-5Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.


Autodesk: What does being a virtual reality geek mean to you? 

Baron: Being a virtual reality geek means my mind can go free. I have the distinct privilege of being able to really think out of the box and look toward the future and innovate in a way that is fast, agile and meaningful for Ford and our customers.

When I look at the objectives I set out for myself at the beginning of year and what we deliver toward the end of year, it’s much more than I thought we could deliver because the technology is changing so fast. And we’re really excited about figuring out ways of adapting it.

Baron-2Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.


Do you think you have what it takes to be recognized by Autodesk for Inventing the Future? If so, send in your submission to