Automotive

Optical illusions are helping Ford to keep new cars camouflaged

Optical illusions are helping ...
Keeping car designs secret until they are launched is becoming increasingly difficult because of the proliferation of cameras and video cameras
Keeping car designs secret until they are launched is becoming increasingly difficult because of the proliferation of cameras and video cameras
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Keeping car designs secret until they are launched is becoming increasingly difficult because of the proliferation of cameras and video cameras
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Keeping car designs secret until they are launched is becoming increasingly difficult because of the proliferation of cameras and video cameras
Keeping car designs under wraps helps to protect the value of car launches, and keeps intellectual property hidden from competitors
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Keeping car designs under wraps helps to protect the value of car launches, and keeps intellectual property hidden from competitors

What with having to do testing on public roads, carmakers don't have the luxury of keeping their products hidden until launch like other manufacturers. Instead, they try to camouflage their prototypes as best they can. Ford has revealed some of the newer methods it is using to do so.

There are a number of reasons that companies like Ford try to keep their designs under wraps, not least to protect the value of their launches and to keep their intellectual property hidden from competitors. As it points out, though, doing so is becoming increasingly difficult due to the proliferation of cameras and video cameras on phones, plus people having instant access to the internet to post photos.

"The work we're doing is crucial to Ford staying competitive in a constantly evolving industry," says section supervisor of the company's Prototype Planning and Build department John LaQue. "When we make it to a reveal without a photo surfacing of a non-camouflaged car, we have all done our jobs."

Historically, Ford says black vinyl cladding was the only way for it to hide a vehicle, but that this was difficult to apply. Now, it is able to print patterned vinyl stickers that can be applied to bodywork easily and that use optical illusions to trick the eye and obscure vehicle details and contours.

Keeping car designs under wraps helps to protect the value of car launches, and keeps intellectual property hidden from competitors
Keeping car designs under wraps helps to protect the value of car launches, and keeps intellectual property hidden from competitors

The stickers are universal and can be used on any vehicle without having to be applied in any particular order. They are also said to be more durable and lighter than the old vinyl cladding, the latter or which means they have less impact on vehicle performance.

Elsewhere, black vinyl wrap with velcro or zipper closures is used to cover up parts of cars that still need to be opened and closed, and faux body panels are even used to change the shape of a car. By adding length or height to a vehicle in this way, its true dimensions can be kept better hidden until such time as it is launched.

The video below provides an insight into some of the techniques used by Ford.

Source: Ford

The Science of Subterfuge: How Ford Uses Modern Camouflage to Hide in Plain Sight

6 comments
John in Brisbane
I've been reading car mags for waaaay too long and the camouflaged prototype is a staple of the breathless gossip pages in the front of mags. To be honest though, I rubbish the gossip rags about celebrities but I devour any pics of new cars. I guess I am part of the problem! People camp out at known testing spots trying to snap a long-distance telephoto shot of the latest model.
Over the years I've seen a few techniques being used including taping different silhouettes with black tape to distract from the actual lines of doors, windows, lights etc. I've also seen patterns quite similar to those in this article - some may have been manually applied from smaller patterned stickers. The overall problem as I see it is that if the photos can capture some of the shiny reflections, you can easily see the actual shapes under the camo. You focus on the shape and kind of ignore the camo. I don't think it's very effective, assuming the photographers and editors know their stuff. In the ford above they don't ever try to disguise the "glass-house" or overall shape, just the lights, grille etc.
I know that car markers are shameless thieves and mimics so I guess an effort needs to be made. Whenever anyone does a strong new design, you see aspects of it in the opposition models within months or years. I just don't think these newer measures are very effective and I don't think they've improved much since the 80s.
Milton
I don't understand why the cars even bother with camo... is anyone really interested in the next boring sedan?
Foiled
They should consider printing random "shadows and lightspots" on the covering, as well as the linework. The light/shadows do, kind of, give it away.
Bob Flint
Who cares what they look like, obviously those curious can't wait for it souls...
You will be forced to see it soon enough barraged by commercials, and the teasing camouflage shots only substantiate & reinforce the artificial need for it.
Username
Very ironic that this article is how Ford disguises it's design seeing it completely lifted it from Aston Martin.
bergamot69
It would probably help if car makers didn't drive their vehicles in broad daylight along busy roads if they want the competition not to see them. Having worked in and around the Gloucestershire/Warwickshire/Oxfordshire border, I saw thinly disguised prototypes being road tested quite frequently, especially Land Rover/Jaguar and Ford products.
I realise that they need to be tested in 'real world' conditions, but why not under the cover of darkness? They usually avoid areas of heavy traffic anyway, as they wouldn't want to get their prototypes stopped in tailbacks, especially as everyone has a camera phone these days.