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Thanks to EMU alumna Elizabeth Baron,

Ford Motor Company engineers all over the world are creating vehicles in an ultrahigh-defi nition, virtual reality space in

Deaborn, Michigan. Ford’s Immersion Lab allows workers to see full-scale, 3D images and lets engineers and designers see inside and through a vehicle structure to study how various structures, mechanical

and electrical systems interact within the architecture. The company fi nally bought into the vision wholeheartedly in

2012, after Baron walked Ford senior leadership through a virtual inspection of a prior design, pointing out issues that could have been caught in the virtual realm. “Our senior leadership says by using virtual engineering tools (which include the virtual immersion lab) we’ve taken six months out of the product development process,” Baron says. “That’s multi- millions of dollars. It’s a phenomenal change in the way we do things. The savings specifi cally related to immersive virtual could be $1 million per thing you catch.” Last September, Ford Motor Company recognized Baron’s

pioneering contribution to her fi eld with its highest technical honor, the Dr. Haren Gandhi Research and Innovation Award. “Elizabeth didn’t simply accept the norm,” says Ford digital

build master and longtime colleague Dan Orr. “She has relentlessly pursued a higher level of excellence, despite the contrarians, and she’s become well known in the augmented and virtual reality fi elds. No one is doing anything quite like this. It’s a defi nite game-changer.”

Baron, a Dearborn native, was the youngest of four children

and the fi rst in her family to go to college. She worked full-time to put herself through EMU and started at Ford after graduation, writing code for computer-aided design (CAD) software. When the company got out of the CAD software business, a colleague gently suggested Baron apply for a job as a technical specialist. When she landed on a team tasked with defi ning how the

company would build a digital model of a car, she started to envision this complete, one-to-one virtual immersion and how it might work in the design process. Unfortunately, no one shared that vision. No one in

industry was using virtual reality as a serious design tool at the time, she says. Ford senior leadership dismissed it as “video games.” “That’s not automotive engineering,” people told her. “I really felt virtual immersion had so much potential,” she says.

“I believed in the potential. I thought I was early to the game and that it would happen.” Even after she convinced the company to commit another employee—half-time—to the project, it was still considered fringe.

18 Eastern | SPRING 2015

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