Driving the Undriven: Ford’s CAVE Environment and Programmable Vehicle Model

driving the undriven fords cave environment and programmable vehicle model ford  s automated virtual

This article is part of our continuing series, Detroit Goes Digital, that goes behind the scenes in Ford’s advanced virtual reality design labs.

Sketching a luxurious car interior that looks good on a screen is the easy part. But making sure actual human occupants will like it from the inside – that’s a much tougher task. How do you know whether the C pillars obscure the view out the back? Whether the radio is too far from the driver? Whether the cup holders are too low?

Drop a real person into a virtual car. Ford’s Cave Automated Virtual Environment – or CAVE – allows designers to do just that. Essentially, it’s a three-sided room with projectors throwing giant images on every wall and a car seat mounted like a throne in the middle. Don a pair of 3D glasses with motion-sensing trackers on them, and all three walls melt into glorious 3D automotive interior.

Although you can’t reach out and touch anything, a hyper-realistic computer rendering affords an excellent sense of sitting in a car that doesn’t exist anywhere but on a hard drive just yet. You can swoop your head down and inspect the stitching in the leather, turn around to see if the rear headrests block your view out the back, and even look in a virtual rear-view mirror to see if it affords the proper view.


A few steps away in the same lab, things get even more realistic with the Programmable Vehicle Model, which folds in physical parts of the vehicle into the experience – a working steering wheel, brake and gas pedals, shifter, and doors, just to name a few. To make the virtual world mesh with this physical counterparts, a driver dons a VR helmet with separate displays for the right and left eye, which generate a convincing stereoscopic effect. Although it blinds you to the environment around you, motion tracking sensors on the helmet and a pair of special gloves ensure that your motions within the cab coordinate exactly with the VR view. Set your hand on the wheel, and a virtual hand touches the wheel. Move your head two inches from the dash, and the radio looms enormous in your view. Even with no view of the world around you, you’re able to reach for and interact with the world around you with confidence. And get a “feel” for sitting in it closer to anything short of a real concept mockup.


Follow the links below to check out our other articles on Ford’s new technology and find out how the age of digital design is changing the hunk of steel and rubber in your driveway for the better.