Ford using AR apps to prototype its future car designs

Your next car, if it's a Ford, may have been designed using AR smarts thanks to Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset.

The car giant has been using the headset to help its designers visualize their concepts and ideas, letting them see changes that would once have required costly clay model reworks to be instantly laid over existing real-world prototypes.

“With HoloLens, we can instantly flip through virtual representations to decide which direction they should go,” says Michael Smith, Ford design manager. 

“As a designer, you want to show, not just tell. This is much more compelling.”

As well as checking out the changing aesthetic properties, Ford's designers are able to use the head-mounted computer to assess physics values, iterating quickly to find faults and inefficiencies, while having the added benefit of experiencing the product in a 3D space.

Coming to a dealership near you?

Though Ford hasn't explicitly committed to it, there's a potentially useful application for consumers too. Say you're at a dealership, and want to check out a slightly different interior or paint job? With an AR application like the one Ford is using, you could have it right in front of you, laid on top of a real-world car rather than just checking it on a screen or in a brochure.

“HoloLens allows a whole team of people to collaborate, share and experience ideas together,” says Elizabeth Baron, Ford virtual reality and advanced visualization technical specialist. 

“Mixing virtual and physical models is exciting, because it helps our designers and engineers communicate effectively and ideate to see what the future looks like earlier in the process. This allows great freedom and efficiency in how prototypes are created or changed.”

HoloLens, for the time being at least, remains a commercial rather than a consumer product. But with Google Glass returning, and Apple making big strides with its ARKit augmented reality push, the age of the AR headset may be rapidly approaching.