Ford wants more rigorous testing in a shorter amount of time for vehicle development

Step aside, humans, and welcome our robot overlords as Ford implements robotic test drivers for its Ford trucks.

Ford said it wants to use robots for rigorous test driving of its trucks instead of humans because humans are limited to a certain amount of time on dangerous test tracks, and Ford wants tougher trucks with more arduous testing.

Ford worked with Utah-based Autonomous Solutions Inc. to create a robotic control module that drives the trucks. The module is installed in the vehicle for acceleration, braking and steering, and is programmed to follow a certain course. But if it strays away, Ford has the ability to stop it and redirect the test drive.

The robotic test system also has other useful features, such as GPS, cameras (so engineers can track its position) and onboard sensors so the control module can stop the truck if a person or another car comes in its path. 

The robots are to be used on Ford's toughest test tracks, which feature cobblestones, broken concrete, metal grates, rough gravel, oversized speed bumps and mud pits. Ford trucks must pass such tests in order to be certified for customer use, but with human test drivers, testing on these dangerous grounds was limited to once a day to keep the people safe. 

“Some of the tests we do on our commercial trucks for North America are so strenuous that we limit the exposure time for human drivers,” says Dave Payne, manager of vehicle development operations at Ford. “The challenge is completing testing to meet vehicle development time lines while keeping our drivers comfortable.
“Robotic testing allows us to do both. We accelerate durability testing while simultaneously increasing the productivity of our other programs by redeploying drivers to those areas, such as noise level and vehicle dynamics testing.”

Payne further added that this is not a sign of Ford's movement into autonomous driving; only a better solution for the test track. 

Ford is currently using its new robotic system on the new full-size Transit van, which has a 2014 launch date.

Source: Ford

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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