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Ford measures brain waves to design cars

Friday, Mar 20, 2015

Ford is adding data and the measurement of brain wave functions to its palette for improving the interior design of future vehicles from the Focus to the GT supercar.

The exterior of a vehicle is what attracts a buyer and is a top purchase consideration, said Raj Nair, head of global product development. But a bad impression of the interior is one of the top three reasons for not buying a vehicle, especially as the average commute is 25 minutes a day.

Designers like Ford Vice President Moray Callum have relied on gut instinct for decades but he is fully embracing a new project that measures brain responses and eye tracking when a person gets behind the wheel. The idea is to use analytics so designers and engineers can concentrate their energies on the features customers care most about.

The project has been underway about 18 months. Ford used a white model of the interior of a Ford Focus. Stripping an interior of materials and colors removes any distractions for a pure understanding of how consumers explore an interior: what captures the eye, holds their attention the longest or repulses them.

"We are doing the research up front before we even get to colors and materials," Callum said. "It helps us make more informed decisions while still in development."

The approach was vital in the design of the GT which packs a lot of content and technology into a compact space and functions must be intuitive enough to use even in a racing environment. The controls must also be in reach in a car where the seats are fixed as part of the carbon fiber body and the pedals and steering wheel move to accommodate the driver.

Design elements of the GT could make their way into future vehicles, Callum said.

Ford used to rely on clinics where subjects sat in a car and gave it a score.

Ford will continue to use customer clinics, but data factors in early in the design process to better direct efforts. If there is an area that a customer never touches, for example, it might not need soft materials. And the research shows cupholders still demand a lot of attention, Callum said.

Biometrics measure emotional response -- Ford literally hooks up wires to a subject's brain to measure what stimulates the brain.

Mapping physical responses confirm that upon entering a vehicle, the eye goes immediately to the gauges and information above the steering wheel. And it is providing input on how people settle into the car and where they put their belongings.

So far Callum said the data is supporting his design instincts -- no big surprises -- but it is proving useful to convince young designers of the wisdom of design decisions and it also helps determine how to prioritize resources.

"We think what we're doing is unique," Callum said.

Ford also participates in a huge international furniture and design trade show known as the Salone del Mobile in Milano next month and issued a challenge to take the principals of GT design and apply them to a non-automotive product. Some of the 126 entries, which include musical instruments, bikes, a racing sailboat and a foosball table, will be part of the Ford display this year.

 

usatoday.com

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