Ford’s exhibit at the 2017 North American International Auto Show, which took place in Detroit earlier this year, dazzled attendees with an augmented reality experience that gave them an X-ray-like look at the technology under the hood of three of its cars—without having to wear headsets. Through the “magic” of AR, the cars appeared transparent as the features hidden beneath the metal of the Ford GT, the F-150 pickup truck and the EcoSport SUV came into view.
“One of our biggest challenges with a new vehicle launch is that we tend to launch them at an auto show before we have saleable units. So, for the most part we can’t let consumers inside the cars because a lot of the parts aren’t the final parts,” says Garett Carr, global auto shows and events manager at Ford. “AR offered a good way to show the inside of the vehicle to a customer that can’t get inside of the vehicle. We were able to tell interesting stories about each one of the products and visually show them to consumers without them being in the car.”
The technology involved stereoscopic cameras, tracking software and a game engine to overlay real-time 3D graphics. The resulting AR footage was displayed in real time on a two-story, high-resolution LED screen behind the cars. Booth visitors could look at the physical vehicles before them, and then watch the narrator present the vehicles’ features above on the screen as graphics and visuals “transformed” the physical vehicle before their eyes.
For event marketers looking to leverage technologies like AR within a group experience, and without the “friction” of headsets, this may be an approach worth exploring. Check out these insights and tips from Imagination, London, which handles Ford’s auto show activations, on adding dimension to your activations.
There are a lot of high-tech buzzwords in the industry today. Don’t be seduced by them. Yann Caloghiris, digital creative director at Imagination, says when used properly, technologies like AR that “show the unseen” can be a service to the industry. Ford’s AR experience was the right solution to a complex problem—how to present the benefits of new product interiors without giving consumers access to the vehicle.
Ford’s AR experience highlighted the 10-speed automatic transmission on the F-150 and the small one-liter engine on the EcoSport. The technology also created an AR wind-tunnel effect over the Ford GT Supercar, showcasing the car’s active aerodynamics—a fan favorite, according to Carr. Throughout the experience, cameras moved to focus on engine parts that most interested the audience or to provide better sight lines and engagement with the vehicles.
Pulling off a high-tech experience like Ford did in Detroit is no mean feat. It usually involves a number of suppliers whose equipment must work together to create the desired result. It also entails a number of unknowns and a steep learning curve. Ford took its AR experience through an extensive testing phase before going live with it, including presenting it to a small focus group in L.A.
Deploying any new technology comes with a calculated risk, and it has to be 100 percent reliable. Ford’s AR experience involved many moving parts that worked together to give the attendees an engaging, unforgettable experience with its vehicles.
If that’s not the case, cut your losses and move on. Better safe than sorry when it comes to high-tech.