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GT Ford by the Museum of Cars: an MR experience

🗣 The Petersen Automotive Museum is home to one of the greatest collections of automobiles in the world, including many one-of-a-kind vehicles from film, television, and video games. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Petersen teamed up with the Comic-Con Museum to spotlight iconic cars in their collection. “Hollywood Dream Machines: Vehicles of Science Fiction and Fantasy” brings some of the most recognizable automobiles of all time into one exhibit.

Putting these vehicles into one exhibit was just the beginning. Petersen wanted to bring a new element of theater to the iconic DeLorean from Back to the Future and the “Warthog” from the Halo gaming franchise. They wanted to create an immersive mixed-reality experience with HoloLens, bringing these fan-favorite vehicles to visitors in a whole new way.

“Everybody’s been to a museum but being in the mixed reality experience just takes it up a notch. It really brought it to life in a way I hadn’t experienced before” said one of the visitors to Petersen Automotive Museum.

How it all started

🗣 It all started with a simple question. What are the most iconic cars in movies, video games, and TV that have captured people’s imaginations? As the team at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles searched for an answer, they kept coming back to the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. Batman. Knight Rider. Halo. Back to the Future.

The goal was to showcase these vehicles in a way that would appeal to hardcore fans while bringing in new audiences to the museum. But the team at the Petersen faced a challenge. “In these films, games, and shows, the worlds that are created for the characters and vehicles are so unique and dynamic that displaying them in an exhibit doesn’t do them justice,” says Michael Bodell, Deputy Director of the Petersen.

And of course, there’s the issue of the cars themselves. Everybody wants to go inside, get behind the wheel, or touch their childhood favorites… just this once. But as Bryan Stevens notes: “These aren’t necessarily real cars. They’re often prototypes cobbled together to look good on screen that are actually fragile… The cars from the Mad Max movies have thousands of little pieces that could break off.”

The solution? A mixed reality experience for the HoloLens that would bring some of the most iconic cars to life for visitors and give them a closer look.

MR brings Ford’s supercars to life

🗣 In 1966, Ford made history with a car that put America on the global motorsports map. The Ford GT40 became the first American car to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking the crown from the long-dominant Ferrari. Today, Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has captured the story and evolution of the Ford GT, from 1966 to 2017, in a mixed reality exhibit called “An American Supercar” that’s revolutionizing the museum experience by taking visitors inside a piece of automotive history.

This exhibit uses Microsoft’s mixed reality headset, the HoloLens, to overlay holograms onto two physical cars–both the original 1967 GT40 and the 2017 GT—parked side-by-side in the museum. Over the course of the 4-minute experience, the walls of the museum are transformed into a virtual world at the Le Man’s racetrack. Visitors are able to look through the body of the car to see normally hidden components of the car, getting a better understanding of how they work and how they’ve evolved over decades of engineering innovation.

“We have thousands of objects in the museum, and one of the things you can’t do is touch them. Without touching them, it’s very hard to ignite your senses, get excited about them, and really learn about them because you’re only a spectator,” says Michael Bodell, Deputy Director at the Petersen. “By using mixed reality, people are actually able to open up the hood and go inside the car.”

For the HoloLens, engineers at app design and development firm Zengalt took actual museum floor plans, virtual Ford GT cars, and photos to recreate the space to precision. They then used spatial mapping, sharing, and sound to position the experience within the real world of the museum.

Final results

🗣 The result is an exhibit that’s the first of its kind, blending mixed reality storytelling with real-life artifacts on the museum floor. This was an essential part of the experience, says Bodell, because visitors can “continue to look at the object as the story continues to unfold. Your attention always stays where we want it to stay, which is in the story that we curated.”

Dana Williamson, Collections Manager at Petersen, was initially skeptical of the mixed reality experience, worrying that new technology would shift focus away from what really matters at Petersen—the cars. But after seeing the technology in action for the first time, he was immediately struck by its potential beyond the exhibit. “It’s an incredible experience,” he says. “And now seeing it, of course, it could be done with other automobiles. It could be done in other automotive situations.”

For Henry Ford III of Ford Motor Company, at a time when the company’s pioneering the use of the HoloLens to design and engineer cars, cutting-edge mixed reality technology is actually the most fitting way to tell the important story of the Ford GT.

“It’s a story about technology and innovation. For us at Ford, it’s about pushing ourselves to the brink of exhaustion—really pushing the envelope of technology and innovation—to show the world what we’re capable of”- Henry Ford III, Ford Motor Company.

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