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o t l o n g a g o, i n a l a rg e , d a r k ro o m i n D e a r b o r n ,

M i c h i g a n , a Fo rd M o t o r Co m p a n y c r a f t s m a n s h i p e n g i n e e r s l i p p e d a v i r t u a l re a l i t y h e a d s e t o n t o h i s h e a d.

Suddenly he shared the room with a

full-sized, white 2015 Ford Mustang and the view he saw in the headset’s display screens fi lled a wall-sized ultra high- defi nition digital screen at the front of the room. To prepare the Mustang design for the

Australian market, Ford designers were working on a right-hand drive model. Using the company’s unique virtual reality lab, the Ford immersive Virtual Environment (FiVE), the engineer could see every detail as if he were looking at a car that had just rolled off the assembly line. He knelt down, leaned into the car (that

wasn’t there) and said, “How are we going to access this fuse panel with the gas pedal in the way?” It’s the kind of detail that would cause

a lot of people a lot of heartburn—and cost Ford a lot of money—if it were missed and made it all the way to the factory fl oor. That’s exactly the kind of design glitch FiVE excels at catching. “The guy that found it was so happy,”

says Ford technical specialist Elizabeth Baron (BA87), founder and head of FiVE. “He wasn’t looking for it; it wasn’t on his list, so it was a big save.” Ford does virtual reality more

comprehensively than it’s done anywhere else in manufacturing, and the company does it that way because Baron refused to give up. She championed immersive virtual reality at Ford at a time when many in senior leadership thought it was a joke, and she kept it alive as a design tool until the technology and hardware caught up with her vision.

Eastern | SPRING 2015 17

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