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.


Apple’s new iPads are hardly new at all. Don’t waste your money

It has taken Apple four years to get around to updating the iPad Mini line, but the new iPad Mini is virtually identical to its predecessor. It’s joined by a confusing iPad Air with no obvious target audience. Is Apple just trying to sell…

Amazon drops a deal on SteelSeries Arctis 3 gaming headset for Nintendo Switch

Amazon is currently running a deal on the SteelSeries Arctis 3 gaming headset, which is compatible with Nintendo Switch as well as Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, mobile, and virtual reality.

How to disable Bixby Home on Samsung Galaxy smartphones

Samsung's Bixby virtual assistant can be helpful, but Bixby Home, which sits on the left of the home screen, hardly offers any kind of value. If you're annoyed by its existence, here's how to disable Bixby Home.

Nissan uses 5G to test tech that lets motorists summon in-car 3D avatars

At CES 2019, Nissan demonstrated technology meant to merge the real world with a virtual one called the Metaverse. The automaker believes future cars could use this invisible-to-visible tech to provide drivers with relevant info.

Sibling rivalry: The Tesla Model Y takes on the Tesla Model 3

Tesla expanded its lineup with a fourth car named Model Y. It's an electric crossover positioned as a more spacious alternative to the Model 3. The two cars share about 75 percent of their components, but they're aimed at different buyers.

Can electric cars be S3XY? Tesla says yes with the new Model Y crossover

Tesla introduced a crossover named Model Y at its design studio in Los Angeles. It's a more spacious alternative to the Model 3 it shares 75 percent of its parts with, and is a smaller sibling to the Model X.

Automakers are spending billions on self-driving technology people are afraid of

Automakers are spending billions of dollars on developing the technology that will power self-driving cars, but research shows consumers have no interest in giving up control. Will they ever recoup their investment?

Adventurous and electric, Porsche’s second station wagon will arrive in 2020

The Mission E Cross Turismo concept Porsche unveiled during the 2018 Geneva Auto Show will morph into a production model tentatively named Taycan Cross Turismo. This 600-horsepower electric station wagon will arrive in showrooms by 2021.

Mustang-like and electrified. What did Ford just show a preview of?

Ford posted an enigmatic picture of a blue Mustang emblem on a black background right as Tesla prepared to introduce the Model Y. Is the Blue Oval teasing a hybrid Mustang, or is it previewing a Mustang-inspired, battery-powered crossover?

Amazon and Kia team up to simplify EV home-charging station installs

Kia Motors announced a new program with Amazon for electric vehicles. Customers planning to purchase a new Kia EV or PHEV can check out recommended Level 2 240-volt home charging stations and arrange installation in their homes.

Unrestrained by heritage, Polestar sets its sights on becoming a digital brand

With no heritage to worry about, Polestar is free to move full-speed ahead towards its goal of becoming a digital brand. All of the company's upcoming models will be electric, and they will inaugurate an Android-powered infotainment system.

Audi’s traffic light information system shows the challenges facing V2X tech

Audi’s traffic light information system is among the first commercial applications of potentially game-changing V2X tech. So how does it work in the real world? We spent a few days getting stuck at red lights to find out.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Fisker plans sub-$40,000 electric SUV with 300 miles of range for 2021

Fisker Inc. plans to launch an electric SUV with a base price of under $40,000, and a range of around 300 miles in 2021. The unnamed vehicle could compete with the Tesla Model Y, if it ever gets into production.