Ford Australia has opened a new virtual design studio that uses Hollywood technology to allow a car designer to sit in a future model up to four years before it hits the road.
The new virtual reality studio uses the same motion modelling technology used in Hollywood animations to test the interior design of a car before it is built.
Testers wear a helmet with virtual reality goggles and a pair of gloves with motion tracking monitors to check the cabin for ergonomics, visibility and positioning of major controls.
The cabin is shown in minute detail, with testers able to see the cut of a floor mat or the detailing on an alloy pedal.
Sixteen infra-red cameras positioned in the studio bounce off small motion tracking globes on the gloves to build a three-dimensional image of the driver's hand.
It's the same technology that animators use to mimic the movements of actors or animals in cartoons and video games.
Ford says the technology allows designers and engineers to identify and fix ergonomic and visibility issues before the car is launched, saving time and money.
With the goggles on, a driver can check to see if there are any blind spots caused by pillars in the car. They can also check to see if some buttons and controls are obscured by steering wheels or centre console lids, for example.
The technology also allows engineers to walk around the car, open the doors and lift the rear tailgate.
The studio means that Ford can test the practicality of the cabin for occupants of all different sizes.
The studio is one of only three in the Ford world, but engineers and designers from around the globe can view the cabin on three-dimensional monitors and ask the driver to perform various functions to test out components.
Nasa and Boeing also use the technology.
"In this virtual world, we can evaluate early vehicle design and it's engineering against a backdrop of virtual conditions and literally experience a complete vehicle years before it is built and a customer drives it out of the showroom," says Ford Australia's chief engineer for digital innovation, Adam Frost.
The technology can also be extended to the factory floor, allowing assembly line operators to perform tasks in a virtual world to see if they are ergonomically friendly.
The president of Ford Australia, Bob Graziano, says the studio is a demonstration of the growing importance of Ford Australia's design studio in the global organisation.
He says Ford's studio in Broadmeadows, Victoria, is one of only three global centres of excellence in Ford, along with head office in Dearborn and Cologne in Germany.
"There's been a lot of focus on manufacturing - but here is where it all begins, the smart design and technical development that culminates in vehicles that are sold around the world."
Ford says the centre's design staff has almost tripled in the past 18 months, and the centre is increasingly being called upon to lead the design of global vehicle platforms.
Ford Australia led the design and engineering of the Ford Ranger one-tonne ute and the Indian small car, the Figo. It is also working on programs for the booming Chinese market.
The goggles, sensors, cameras and monitors cost roughly A$500,000.
What do you think of the 2015 Ford Mustang?Related story: New Ford Mustang revealed
Gear up for that big holiday drive
Tips on how to do a safe river crossing
On the road and prepared for the cold snap