Ford, United Space Alliance Share Virtual Reality Expertise to Build Better Cars, Space Missions


DEARBORN, Mich., Jan. 20 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Engineers at United Space Alliance (USA) and Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) are sharing their animation software experiences to create virtual reality simulations that benefit both astronauts and drivers.

Ford is applying virtual reality animation software that is used by movie animators and video game creators to improve real-life driving situations before the first prototype is even built. In an immersive Virtual Evaluation lab (iVE), Ford engineers create virtual vehicles complete with exterior views.

Engineers for USA, the prime Space Shuttle contractor, are using the same technology at the Kennedy Space Center to help build future space vehicles safer and more efficiently. Current applications include using the technology to track and characterize launch debris during ascent. Past applications include developing processes to more efficiently remove and re-install the reinforced carbon-carbon panels on the Space Shuttle wing leading edges.

“In this virtual environment, we can evaluate early vehicle designs against a backdrop of virtual conditions and literally experience a vehicle from someone else’s vantage point before it is built, helping us to create a car, truck or crossover that provides the perfect environment for the driver and its occupants,” said Elizabeth Baron, Ford’s Virtual Reality and Advanced Visualization Technical Specialist.

In the case of the Lincoln MKS, for example, iVE was used to test multiple iterations of the sedan’s centerstack at varying eye points. The intent is to find the best possible placement of controls and displays not only for aesthetics and visibility, but it helps engineers and designers to see how certain designs and layouts look before the vehicle is built.

Ford iVE technicians can put themselves in the customer’s shoes and get a better understanding of how the vehicle’s dashboard displays look from the customer’s point of view or evaluate height of the centerstack, for example. They can then judge things like whether the cockpit feels too crowded or cavernous, if all the buttons and dials on the dashboard are visible and within reach, and whether the layout is appealing.

“Being able to evaluate a vehicle in the virtual world allows us to duplicate anything to recreate a realistic driving experience,” Baron said. “We’re even able to include passing cars, pedestrians and animated towns in the driving experience.”

Ford is the auto industry leader when it comes to melding state-of-the-art motion capture and immersive virtual reality tools. Using analytical data derived from those tests, Ford can test targets in the iVE lab to improve visibility, quality and comfort of its vehicles, while significantly reducing the time and cost that come with prototype development.

Baron, renowned in her use of this animation software, frequently collaborates with other industries on iVE applications. Ford engineers, using a suite of virtual tools including animation software, have shaved eight to 14 months off the time it took to develop a vehicle five years ago.

USA, a leading space operations company, is also using the same digital animation tool to develop models that accurately predict how the loss of materials would affect liftoff of the Space Shuttle or the next generation vehicles.

Working with Baron, USA is looking at ways to customize the technology used by Ford to help it make quick decisions about repairs and maintenance, as well as determine the best decisions should a spacecraft face unexpected events.

These two teams are sharing information to the benefit of both. Ford engineers have helped USA to specify software enhancements to human simulation software and motion tracking technology with the goal of simulating spacecraft repairs.

In turn, USA engineers have provided expertise to Ford engineers to enhance the immersive virtual experience by improving response time, allowing for a smoother and more realistic environment. They’ve also provided expertise on computer and projection hardware.

“The opportunities working with the Ford Visualization team are providing us invaluable knowledge in combining ergonomic analysis with visualization technology,” said USA computer science lead Brad Lawrence. “It was extremely interesting to see how similar our efforts are regarding automobile and spacecraft processing. When the two teams got together a wealth of creative ideas were formed and lasting friendships were made. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the Ford team.”

Ford’s Baron added, “Helping our designers build cars that are a better fit for drivers and passengers is a thrill and teaming up and sharing ideas with USA for the benefit of our space program is a whole other level of cool. We’ve learned a great deal from USA about how to make our virtual lab even more life-like for engineers and designers so our new vehicles look and feel just right inside.”

The partnership is a classic win-win, Baron said. “Ford is better able to refine the design of new vehicles, and USA aims to prepare for any scenario that lies ahead.”

About Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 200,000 employees and about 90 plants worldwide, the company’s automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford’s products, please visit

About United Space Alliance

United Space Alliance is a world leader in space operations with extensive experience in all aspects of the field. Headquartered in Houston, USA has more than 9,000 employees working in Texas, Florida and Alabama. Currently, USA is applying its broad range of capabilities to the Space Shuttle, International Space Station and Constellation programs as well as to space operations customers in the commercial and international space industry sectors.

Source: Ford Motor Company

CONTACT: Kristen Kinley of Ford Motor Company, +1-313-337-2786,

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