the 1966 Ford GT40 and the 2017 Ford GT

Mixed reality brings Ford GT supercars to life

Petersen Automotive Museum launches an immersive HoloLens experience that takes visitors through the engineering and design evolution of the 1966 Ford GT40 from its 24 hours of Le Mans victory to today's 2017 Ford GT.

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 Mans race track. 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.

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 on the story that we curated.”

By using mixed reality, people are actually able to open up the hood and go inside the car.

- Michael Bodell, Deputy Director, Petersen Automotive Museum

Dana Williamson, Collections Manager at the 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.

1967 GT40
2017 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
Two people using Hololens in front of 2017 Ford GT
Man putting on Hololens