Ford Motor Company
Robotic system for autonomous test drives designed by Autonomous Solutions Inc., inside a Ford van.

Ford hires robots for the dangerous test drives

Aug. 21, 2013
Autonomous vehicles provide new insight on overall performance through test drives.
 The driver’s seat of a Ford van carries robotic hardware from Autonomous Solutions Inc. (Petersboro, UT), that lets the vehicle drive autonomously through hazardous test environments considered unsafe for humans.

The onboard robotics included a linear actuator box and a ring gear clamped onto the back of the steering wheel. Four actuators are housed in a box. One goes to the accelerator pedal, another connects to the shifter, and two are tied to the brake pedal, doubling the force available to stop the vehicle. ASI’s vehicle controller (VCU), which controls the various actuators, is a Motorola 32-bit processor. It determines the vehicle’s speed, transmission mode, and brake force. With the VCU, the vehicle can either drive itself or be controlled by a human in a nearby base station. A large console at the station lets one person control up to eight test vehicles.

ASI’s inspiration for the automotive field stemmed from the military’s use of robotic vehicles as targets. Ford’s request, however, was to conduct unmanned test drives too strenuous for humans. Data shows that the robot can repeatedly withstand the force of impact from potholes and obstacles at a continuous speed while a human driver, would have to decrease speed to repeatedly drive over the harsh course.

Altogether, the vehicle has 20 sensors. They track vertical, lateral, and longitudal motion. A forward-facing camera on the roof, part of the MobilEye safety system, detects cars and pedestrians. If it senses movement, it trips the vehicle’s emergency stop.

Watch Ford test drive their new van using ASI’s technology below.

Photo: Ford Motor Company

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