In testing the durability of its upcoming fullsize Transit vans, Ford has begun using autonomous robotic technology to pilot vehicles through the punishing courses of its Michigan Proving Grounds test facility. The autonomous tech allows Ford to run more durability tests in a single day than it could with human drivers, as well as create even more challenging tests that wouldn’t be safe to run with a human behind the wheel.
The technology being used was developed by Utah-based Autonomous Solutions, and isn’t quite like the totally autonomous vehicles being developed by companies like Google and Audi for use out in the real world. Rather, Ford’s autonomous test vehicles follow a pre-programmed course and their position is tracked via GPS and cameras that are being monitored from a central control room. Though the route is predetermined, the robotic control module operates the steering, acceleration and braking to keep the vehicle on course as it drives over broken concrete, cobblestones, metal grates, rough gravel, mud pits and oversize speed bumps.
Scroll down to watch the robotic drivers in action, though be warned that you’re headed for disappointment if you expect to see a Centurion behind the wheel (nerd alert!). The setup looks more like a Mythbusters experiment than a scene from Battlestar Galactica.
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By John Neff