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Ford announces robotic program to test vehicles

June 18, 2013|By David Undercoffler
  • Ford says it is first automaker to develop robotic technology that drives vehicles during a series of durability tests.
Ford says it is first automaker to develop robotic technology that drives… (Ford / Wieck )

Just weeks after its chairman said the world of self-driving cars is closer than we think, Ford announced a program that uses an autonomous system for testing the durability of its cargo vans.

The program uses robots to drive Ford’s upcoming full-sized Transit van around a closed test course. Each van is fitted with a "robotic control module" that handles the steering, braking, and acceleration.

Ford said the vehicles are programmed to follow a preset course. The automaker tracks the van’s progress with cameras in a nearby control room, and a GPS system keeps the vehicle accurate to within an inch, according to Ford. Additional sensors monitor for pedestrians or other vehicles that might cross into its path.

PHOTOS: Ford's autonomous testing

Utah-based Autonomous Solutions Inc. designed and built the robotic system, Ford said.

The program also helps Ford by allowing the company to test vehicles for a longer period of time than is possible with a human driver.

"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," said Dave Payne, manager of vehicle development operations.

Though Payne said the specific goal of this particular project was not to develop a self-driving vehicle for public use on city streets, Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. recently made it clear that such a future is very close.

Speaking at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference at the end of April, Ford said fast-moving changes related to self-driven cars were about to sweep the automobile industry.

"The car as we know it, and how it’s used in people’s lives, is going to change really dramatically and it’s going to change fast," said Ford. "We stand on the cusp of a series of revolutions."


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