Virtual reality may have started in the gaming industry, but it’s quickly expanding beyond video games and into manufacturing sectors for both assembly and training. After the general announcement at the CES in January, Ford recently revealed to get its technicians ready for the upcoming Mustang Mach-E — the brand’s first all-electric pony car — it will be using a VR program as a training tool. What does Ford expect to get from using VR, and will other brands follow suit?
Introducing the Mustang Mach-E
While the Mach-E won’t be hitting highways until 2021 — and it isn’t Ford’s first all-electric model — we still can’t wait to see a battery-powered Mustang SUV rolling off the assembly line. Powered by one or two electric motors, depending on the model you choose, this electric pony car can generate anywhere from 306-459 horsepower and anywhere from 417-612 pound-feet of torque. It will allegedly have a range of 220 to 300 miles, depending on the size of the battery pack. According to Ford, it should be able to accelerate from 0-60 in less than four seconds.
Other than a few tidbits of information that Ford has fed us, we don’t know a whole lot about the upcoming electric Mustang. As with most EVs, manufacturers are finding it necessary to train a new crop of technicians to assemble, repair, and maintain these vehicles. That’s where virtual reality is coming in.
Virtual reality training
Ford is working with Bosch to create a virtual reality training tool that will help teach technicians how to service the electric SUV. They won’t need a physical Mach-E to work on to learn these new skills. Instead, they can strap on the wireless Oculus Quest headset and work on a virtual mockup of the vehicle that won’t be rolling off assembly lines until next year. The technician will be handed a Mach-E with a virtual problem that they will have to diagnose and solve in the shortest time possible. The faster the techs come up with a correct fix, the better the score.
“Technicians will be immersed in a simulated and gamified world, meaning they won’t need to rely on actual Mustang Mach-E vehicles to learn about its components, including the electric SUV’s new high-voltage system.”
– Dave Johnson, director of Ford service engineering operations.
This helps Ford and its technicians get a leg-up and be ready for whatever might happen when the electric SUV hits showroom floors during the spring of 2021. This is Ford’s first attempt at using virtual reality as a training tool for technicians, and it won’t be the last. If it’s successful, the brand may expand the virtual training program to include other models — both electric and traditional — in the future.
The future of automotive technician training
Ford isn’t the first company to start exploring the non-video-game applications of virtual and augmented reality. NASA, for example, is replacing its massive assembly manuals for the Orion deep-space capsule with an augmented reality program paired with a Microsoft HoloLens. Not only does this program contain all the assembly instructions that would otherwise be found in an enormous manual, but it also tells the assemblers each step in turn. It even projects virtual pieces onto the real world to make it easier to complete these monumental projects.
“The virtual reality training solution is about new technology that builds efficiency,” […] “By improving the diagnostic process, technicians are able to perform maintenance and make repairs faster and more easily.”
– Geoff Mee, director of operations for Bosch.
Even KFC has a VR training system that managers can use to teach new employees how to make the brand’s signature Original Recipe chicken. However, watching footage of the training makes the process seem a lot more nightmarish than it actually is.
As VR technology continues to advance, virtual training programs may replace in-person training. In the case of the Mach-E, it gives technicians across the country the chance to work on these electric SUVs virtually well before the first of them makes its way to a showroom floor.
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Ideally, drivers won’t have to bring their new Mach-E’s back so soon. However, there’s always the chance that something could go wrong. Training programs like these ensure techs are prepared for anything as soon as the SUV goes on sale.
This guest article has been prepared by Martin Bank. Thanks, Martin, for the contribution!
YouTube: Ford reveals Mustang Mach-E in Oslo
Photo credit: The images shown are owned by Ford and were provided as part of a media kit.
Source: Ford press release / Car And Driver / Sean Szymkowski (CNET) / Erin Winick (MIT Technology Review) / Whitney Filloon (Eater)