Built In Virtual Reality

Built In Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has been mostly good for games and entertainment, but Ford is now using it to design cars.

The future of virtual reality (VR) is not certain as the technology is yet to be used for mainstream applications. Although one can browse Facebook and YouTube in VR, this required many experiments with the technology, headset and other accessories. But this time, American auto giant Ford has decided to try and design cars in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality settings.

The company is using a suite of tools called Gravity Sketch that enables users to develop design ideas in 3D instead of creating traditional 2D sketches and converting them to 3D models, all of which takes a lot of time and efforts. The Ford team was able to create a design in a mere 40 hours using this software.

London-based Gravity Sketch was among the first companies to offer a platform to create a real-time 3D design in AR and VR with no CAD (computer-aided design) training. In fact, there is no need to learn engineering vocabulary and cumbersome keyboard commands. Better still, it allows teams across locations to collaborate on the design and incorporate the results into the workflow in real time. The output can be exported in a variety of formats.

According to Michael Smith, Design Manager for Ford, one of the biggest benefits of designing in VR is that it truly unleashes creativity and fosters the development of user-centric and customer-centric designs from start to finish because "we could get ourselves into the mind and the virtual body of our customers. Jumping right into 3D gives us a 360-degree view of a vehicle as it is being created." Consequently, designers can develop a model at a human scale, with everything being exactly where it ought to be. The method lets them prototype the experience a customer will have, and not just how a customer will fit into the vehicle. It is also possible to explore how the car interacts with the environment.

In Ford's demonstration, one can see a designer wearing a VR headset and moving his arms and hands around to manipulate the virtual object in front of him - a wireframe model of a car. As designers use gestures and motion tracking to create a 3D model in VR, the same can be turned around 360 degrees, tipped on its side or even turned upside down. Instead of making multiple sketches and detailing on paper, it is now possible to integrate everything into one form with various experts stepping in to take up different aspects of the design process. In the traditional method, a 2D sketch is made and scanned to create a high-resolution illustration, and it is then fed into a computer to create a 3D model. The new method shortens the entire procedure and leaves more time for creativity besides exploring new perspectives provided by the scale-free VR platform.

Game for It

Over the past two-three years, AI-enabled machines have beaten humans time and again whenever there has been a breakthrough - be it the system teaching itself the rules of the game or upskilling itself to win exceptionally complex thinking games like Go or developing the strategies needed to overcome tricky obstacles to reach a goal as in Montezuma's Revenge. Recently, there has been another development - a robot has managed to play Jenga with the greatest of expertise.

Jenga is a game that looks deceptively simple, but you need to be extremely careful. It features a tower of 54 blocks (each has a different shape), and players need to extract the pieces without letting the tower fall. Built by the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab, the Jenga-playing robot uses an interesting combination of tools and skills to tackle this game. The tools include a soft-grip prong or arm, a force-and-pressure-sensing wrist cuff and a camera.

The robot makes careful movements with the help of these and tests each block by moving it a little until it is satisfied that the tower will not fall. Understandably, Jenga requires an understanding of physics and physical activities unlike games like Go or Chess, which are more cognitive. It is hoped that a robot's ability to play Jenga so well will pave the path for an entirely new class of robots which can be used for similar tasks at the industry level.