As car makers continue to develop vehicles that can drive themselves, Ford has taken it a step further and created a robotic test driver.
The blue oval brand has introduced new high-tech robots that drive its commercial vehicles during testing because the conditions behind the wheel "could prove too taxing for human drivers".
As with all car makers, engineers spend a lot of time doing real-world testing in their development vehicles as they attempt to iron out bugs and niggles. However, by getting robots to spend the countless hours at the helm steering, braking and accelerating, while also logging complex data and relaying it to the boffins back in the lab, Ford claims it has done away with a taxing task.
Ford claims the robot drivers will be used to "repeatedly perform tests on torturous surfaces" and that the "tests can compress 10 years of daily driving abuse into courses just a few hundred yards long". Until the robots come online, drivers were only allowed to use some stretches of road once a day.
"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 Ford's manager of vehicle development operations, Dave Payne. "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 goal here was not to develop a truly autonomous vehicle that can drive itself on city streets," says Payne. "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."
The robots are currently completing durability testing for the new all-new Ford Transit van, which is due here in 2014.
-Fairfax Media Australia
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