Ford Using Robots to Test Trucks

The engineers at Ford have developed the industry’s first robotic test driving program.

This pilot program has been used for testing the 2014 Ford Transit van. At present, all North American Ford trucks must pass this battery of durability tests before they gain their certification for customer use. Currently its being used at the company’s Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo, Mich. This is to meet demands that Ford trucks undergo ever more strenuous Built Ford Tough testing with greater frequency.  The use of robots now accelerates this testing, allowing an unlimited number of repeats until Ford engineers are satisfied with the results.

The durability technology features 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. If the vehicle strays from its programmed course, engineers have the ability to stop the vehicle, correct the course and restart the test. Onboard sensors can command an emergency stop if a pedestrian or another vehicle strays into the path. The tests can compress 10 years of daily driving abuse into courses just a few hundred yards long, with surfaces that include broken concrete, cobblestones, metal grates, rough gravel, mud pits and oversized speed bumps.

Previously, testing speeds and repetitions for specific scenarios were limited due to restrictions placed on human drivers, who were allowed to drive certain rigorous courses only once a day. But now, robots have changed that. Ford engineers worked with Utah-based Autonomous Solutions Inc. to design and manufacture the software and components that enable autonomous, robotic operation of the test vehicle.