How do ping-pong balls relate to the design of the 2013 Ford Escape? According to Ford, ping-pong balls are ideal for evaluating how much interior space a new car offers. As seen in these photos, designers can fill up oddly shaped cubby holes like the glovebox and cupholders to determine their volume.
Ford previously used tape measures to determine the length, width, and height of interior compartments, but found that the numbers weren’t always consistent depending on who took the measurements. In part, that was because modern car interiors have curved and rounded shapes that can’t easily be measure with a ruler. Ping-pong balls, however, were found to be an easy way to measure those spaces — and doubly hand when engineers need to blow off steam with a quick game.
“It was just a quirky idea that came out of a team brainstorm,” Ford vehicle architecture supervisor Eric Jackson said in a statement. “We then did some studies using ping-pong balls and found capacities were more consistently measured.”
Ford engineers have come up with a formula that lets them calculate the volume of a space based on how many ping-pong balls fit. That allows for comparing the interior room of a new model like the 2013 Escape to similar vehicles from rival manufacturers.
Ford also uses laser scanners to measure the size and shape of consumer goods, to ensure that they will fit in storage compartments. Engineers have scanned everything from mountain bikes and wheelchairs, to MP3 players and sunglasses, to see how those objects will fit in a new car.