Ford Wants Its Designers to Work in VR

Gif: YouTube

Imagine how much time a company could save if its employees could collaborate remotely with people around the world in real time. That’s the idea behind Ford’s collaboration with 3D VR tool Gravity Sketch, a first in the automotive industry.


Given that this is a fairly new technology when it comes to designing cars, Gravity Sketch isn’t completely proven. But the idea could transform the automotive design process if it turns out to be effective. Essentially, engineers are able to trade in their solo design tools—computer, headset, you name it—in favor of a VR headset and controllers, Ford reports.

With a program called Co-Creation, multiple designers around the world can tune into the same project and work together. Designers can draw, rotate and create a 3D model with real-time feedback. From the press release:

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. Through Co-Creation, a designer can transfer to another designer’s point of view within virtual reality to see from his or her perspective. This is especially helpful when training other designers in Gravity Sketch.

Across five global Ford design studios, dozens of interior and exterior designers are now experimenting with Gravity Sketch for workflow feasibility and its capability 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.

Should the technology prove useful, the time-savings could drastically change the way cars are designed. Ford design manager Michael Smith told Roadshow that it took him 40 hours to create a vehicle rending, when normally such a rendering would require months of work.

One of the more interesting implications of this process is how designers from different regions of the world will inform a more international design—if that’s what they’re going for. I would personally be interested to see how these different mindsets will work together, if cars will become more universal or if major design distinctions will be made early on in the process.

It sounds like a promising application of tech in the automotive world, but we have yet to see how it’ll work in practice instead of just in theory.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.


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In my experience, older engineers won’t like it on principle (it’s “new”), and even as a younger engineer, I’ve never found VR to be useful in the actual design phase. A keyboard, 2D mouse, and a 3D mouse are just so much more accurate and precise than VR controllers waving around in space.

Where VR really shines is in design reviews, where precision is less important than just being able to easily visualize something, and for training, where new techs can be quickly trained on new hardware without having to fly out to some training center, but can instead download the latest equipment training at whatever site they work at.

At my job we use VR for training as described above, for procedure writing, and for serviceability reviews (i.e. can I really wiggle this bracket into place around all these wires?”; that sort of thing). I don’t see VR as especially useful in my part design phase yet, but maybe someday.