Ford is the first automaker to develop and implement a robotic test driving program to help out in the durability testing of Ford's truck and van lineup.
“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. 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,” said says Dave Payne, manager of Ford's vehicle development operations.
Ford worked with Utah-based Autonomous Solutions Inc. to design and manufacture a robotic system for this use. The system is comprised of a robotic control module that controls the acclerator, brake, and steering; cameras and GPS that track the vehicle; and onboard sensors that can detect and stop the vehicle if there is a person or another vehicle in the way. A controller at the control center monitors and can intervene if necessary.
“The goal here was not to develop a truly autonomous vehicle that can drive itself on city streets. Our objective was to create a test track solution that allows for this type of intense testing that could take our vehicles to the most extreme limits of their engineering while ensuring the safety of all involved,” said Payne.