Ford and the UK Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) today (5 /12/00) announced a joint venture aimed at accelerating the vehicle design process and improving quality.

The joint venture, Holographic Imaging LLC, is a research and development company formed to create a three-dimensional, interactive imaging workstation prototype. The new technology has the potential to save millions of dollars in design and development costs for new vehicle platforms, while also bringing new products to consumers faster.

The technology, under development by DERA, will be used to create full-scale virtual digital models of prototype vehicles. The joint venture will streamline vehicle design processes by reducing the reliance on hard models, give developers the ability to redesign features in real time and the capability to hold multiple design reviews simultaneously.

"The new company's focus is to develop a three-dimensional design tool which can be used to accelerate and simplify product development and design processes," said Neil Ressler, vice president, research and vehicle technology and Ford’s chief technical officer.

"DERA's long history of innovation as the largest R&D organization in Western Europe makes this partnership a revolutionary step by Ford."

The joint venture also will have the potential to tap into other business and growth opportunities, such as participating in attractive new businesses in automotive and non-automotive fields as a licensor or equity partner. These include applying the technology to other fields such as aerospace, entertainment, medical imaging, oil and gas industry, industrial design and marketing.

"This three-dimensional imaging technology allows for much earlier review of proportion and stance, gives us the ability to look at multiple solutions and modify them in real time by just moving our hands in space, and provides relatively quick means to assess and improve our craftsmanship quality," said J Mays, Ford’s vice president, design.

"Imagine being able to project a three-dimensional instrument panel in full-scale and view it from behind the wheel or the passenger seat and obtain customer feedback months earlier than we can get today. This will be possible with this technology."

Ford has been collaborating with DERA on research into interactive three-dimensional holography since 1997. A system based on this technology will enable true, three-dimensional virtual models of vehicles, components and fully interactive systems that can be used by design, engineering and marketing staffs. Jaguar began working with DERA in 1996 on night vision systems.

Both Ford and DERA will retain equal stakes in the new company, while they continue to explore joint commercialisation opportunities with other companies. The new company will be based in the US.