If you’ve ever seen a car covered in bizarre swirls, mind‑bending patterns, or crazy squiggles then the chances are you’ve seen a top secret new prototype with a special coating of camouflage stickers.
Designed to deceive industry spies hoping to catch a glimpse of future cars being tested on public roads, these designs create an optical illusion, making it extremely hard for eyes to focus on the outlines.
Ford’s latest 3D “Brick” camouflage, inspired in part by popular online illusions, uses thousands of seemingly randomly placed black, grey and white cylinders in a chaotic criss-cross pattern. This makes it especially difficult to discern future cars and their new exterior features in sunlight, whether seen in person or on the millions of photographs and selfies that are posted to the internet. Lars Muehlbauer, manager of camouflaging future cars explains:
Almost everyone has a smartphone now and can share photos instantly – making it easy for anyone, including our rivals, to see future cars. The designers create beautiful cars with cool design features. Our job is to keep those features of future cars hidden.
Future cars are tested on public roads as part of a rigorous development process. Each new camouflage takes around two months to develop and is then printed on superlight vinyl stickers, which are thinner than a human hair, and that are uniquely applied to each of the future cars being tested. Designs on future cars are first tested on a closed Ford test track to ensure the camouflage does the job. Vehicle protype engineer, Marco Porceddu elaborates:
I tried to create a design which is chaotic and that confuses the eyes. I researched optical illusions on the internet and came up with a shape that could be copied and overlapped thousands of times. This creates both an optical illusion and a 3D effect on future cars.
Designed to withstand extreme temperatures, Ford’s camouflage blends in with winter environments in Europe while sand colours are used in Australia and South America.
Associate Professor at the Univerisyt of Exeter, Martin Stevens explains:
This camouflage will stand out in almost any environment, but it’s designed to destroy the integrity of the vehicle’s shape, surfaces and colour, delaying your brain’s ability to recognise it, or its key features by sight. The optical illusion doesn’t prevent the car being seen, but plays with your ability to measure depth of field and shadows, making it difficult to see shapes and car features. It is a trick used in nature to get away from something or to hide that is equally useful to a car test driver.