Ford Motor Co. brings virtual reality design facility to campus

Years before a car hits the road—even years before its parts are manufactured—engineers must design and refine every aspect of a vehicle. At Ford Motor Co., this takes place in Ford’s immersive Environment Lab (FiVE), a state-of-the-art facility that provides digital evaluations of vehicle concepts in a virtual 3D world. On Thursday, Ford will bring a mobile version of its virtual design lab to Case Western Reserve University.

Ford’s visit to campus is part of a national tour to give people a chance to see how the technology works, but Case Western Reserve is the only stop in the Midwest.

“We chose Case Western Reserve University because it’s renowned for its engineering program, so it was the first place we looked,” said Ericka Pfeifer, a spokeswoman for Ford Motor Co. “We know they’re innovative [at CWRU], and this is something we felt would really benefit the students and give them a chance to see what they might be doing in the real world.”

During the visit, from 1 to 3:30 p.m. in the Bingham Building, faculty, staff and students can see how the virtual reality technology works through demonstrations and then talk to engineers and designers who work with the technology. Demonstrations will be done every 30 minutes. Although only one person will actually take part in the demonstration, it is set up so everyone can see the technology in action through large screens.

The technology, such as Ford’s Programmable Vehicle Model, allows engineers to evaluate multiple design options, such as reach, headroom, visibility and more. In addition, the Cave Automated Virtual Environment uses motion-tracking equipment and computer software to generate virtual vehicle interiors and exteriors at actual scale. Having such technology reduces the need to build physical prototypes—saving millions of dollars and months of hard work.

“The continued tradition of producing excellent engineers, along with new interdisciplinary labs and resources, provides an ideal environment to bring together our students with an outstanding, leading-edge company like Ford,” said Case School of Engineering Dean Jeffrey L. Duerk. “The virtual reality design interfaces perfectly with where we see our ‘active learning curriculum’ moving to, and it allows us to build on our own systems, such as Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Marc Buchner’s Virtual Worlds Gaming and Simulation lab.”

The event is open to the entire campus community. Interested attendees can stop in any time or can RSVP to Pfeifer at to ensure their preferred time slot.