June 15, 2013
- Ford is first automaker to develop robotic technology that drives vehicles during new accelerated high-impact on-road and off-road durability testing
- Robotically driven vehicles ideally suited for durability test conditions that could prove too taxing for human drivers
- New technology used to ensure Ford trucks, including the all-new Transit van family, are Built Ford Tough
Ford engineers have developed the industry's first robotic test driving program – now in use at the company's Michigan Proving Grounds in
– to meet demands that Ford trucks undergo ever more strenuous Built Ford Tough testing with greater frequency.
The pilot program has been used most recently for durability testing of Ford's all-new full-size Transit van, which launches in 2014.
"Some of the tests we do on our commercial trucks for
are so strenuous that we limit the exposure time for human drivers," says
, manager, vehicle development operations. "The challenge is completing testing to meet vehicle development time lines while keeping our drivers comfortable.
"Robotic testing allows us to do both," he says. "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."
The durability technology includes a robotic control module installed in the test vehicle that controls vehicle steering, acceleration and braking. The module is set to follow a preprogrammed course, and the vehicle's position is tracked via cameras in a central control room and GPS accurate to plus/minus one inch. Should the vehicle stray from its programmed course, engineers have the ability to stop the vehicle, course correct as necessary, and restart the test. Onboard sensors can command a full stop if a pedestrian or another vehicle strays into the path.