Autonomous Vehicles Give Humans the Boot in New Ford Tests

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By Aaron Bragman

I have seen the future, and if you are a test driver or aspire to be one, your participation is likely not required. Ford Motor Co. invited a handful of journalists to its Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo, Mich., to get a peek at a new durability testing procedure that could very well be the wave of the future — one that eliminates drivers from many of the vehicles being tested, turning control over to an autonomous system.

Developed in conjunction with Utah-based Autonomous Systems Inc., maker of unmanned vehicle systems, Ford's Automated Vehicle Durability Test System replaces test drivers with a combination of systems that allow the vehicle to be remotely piloted by computer. A GPS receiver on the roof of the car gets signals from satellites and ground-based repeaters allow the computer to know where the vehicle is on the track within 1 inch accuracy. A ring gear controls the steering wheel while linear accelerators handle the pedals; all the systems can be removed in 30 minutes to allow for normal driving by a human. Combined with a super-accurate map of the proving grounds' test tracks, the system allows a test vehicle to pilot itself over a repeating test loop. All of it is monitored from a staffed control room. An operator sits in front of a bank of video monitors and can control between four and eight vehicles at a time. Onboard sensors will bring the vehicle to a stop if they detect an obstacle or pedestrian in its way, or the remote operator can halt everything with a kill switch in the control room.

The benefits of using such a system are obvious: highly accurate repeatability in durability testing, faster development times and lower costs from all of the above. Right now Ford is using the system to test the new 2015 Ford Transit van that will arrive in the U.S. next year, but says it has already put eight vehicles through the system, including the next Super Duty pickup. The system has been in development for nearly three years, with a skunk works of eight engineers taking on additional duties to get it up and running.

Ford is using the system for tests that are either too punishing for humans to do or too monotonous. Ford demonstrated what it euphemistically called the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" test, which involved a Transit driving at about 25 mph back and forth over a long, straight concrete path that had low curbs placed at regular intervals, followed by two circular loops that saw the van get two wheels up onto a curb. The test is meant to help simulate 10 years of wear and tear, shortened into a period of just months — but a human driver would find an eight-hour shift driving the truck over the durability test track to be physically punishing. Instead of swapping new drivers out every couple of hours, Ford has automated the test — and can now run it continuously, 24 hours a day, without stopping for driver changes or lunch breaks.

Not only can Ford run the most difficult tests faster and longer, but it can do them with a repeatability that human test drivers can't match. With a computer controlling the van, it is possible to get nearly the exact same steering and pedal inputs every time on the test loop — there is no driver error or variation, as there is no driver. This allows Ford to make the tests even more concentrated and compact, saving even more time and money. Dave Payne, Ford's manager of vehicle development operations (the guy responsible for how Ford tests vehicles worldwide), now estimates that the company can do a full 10-year durability test in just three months, and that the investment in the system has already paid for itself in less than a year thanks to efficiency cost savings.

Next up, Ford intends to expand the system to more parts of its proving grounds, as well as to test tracks around the world. The system is currently rated at speeds up to 80 mph, and Ford would like to boost that top speed rating to 120-150 mph in order to use it for the maximum velocity durability testing on its high-speed ovals. You may think it sounds exciting to go 150 mph for hours at a time on a high-speed oval, but it gets monotonous Payne says, and that can get dangerous. Ford would also like to mix its autonomous testing vehicles and piloted vehicles on the same track; right now Ford isolates the autonomous vehicles for safety purposes. The company says that it has no intention of completely replacing all test drivers with robots, but for tests like these, autonomous systems just make more sense.

To read the full Ford press release, click here

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Comments

I know nothing is going to replace the look and feel of the E-Series, but that Transit looks pretty good...waaaayy better than that Ram Promaster. I don't like the passenger side windshield wiper is shorter than the driver side, though, as on lots of passenger cars. I wonder if the Transit had a regular six or the EcoBoost or the Powerstroke.

Just what we need more computers to take away jobs from people. This is great tech to defuse bombs and stuff like that, but I don't see this as great being used this way.

I dont know, if anything this might create more jobs.

@ johnny doe: Anyone who does a job that can be replaced by a robot or a computer should not be at all surprised when it is. It's up to the individual to decide if they want to take the time to learn how to be irreplaceable, or if they just want to complain when they are replaced.

Future doesnt look good at all....

Pretty soon,people will be banned from driving,and computers will drive us around !

I love to drive,and just to sit behind the wheel and the computer do the driving would turn me into a crazy person !

Driving releases my stress,the feel of driving,I just love it...

I can see the future and it doesnt look good,because the Government thinks we are all dolts and cant handle driving..

I for one,dont enjoy sitting on a beach,sitting in a cafe',dont enjoy taking a bus or public transit of any sort (subway,commuter train) I can see all limited to 30 mph with computers driving us,screw the future !

Ford sucks for doing this and making it one step easier for the government to make driving a thing of the past..

I guess then I could sit and shoot at people,while the computer drives me around (my life would have little meaning without driving) I will have alot of time If I dont drive to snort drugs,shoot up drugs ect...as I would become a drugged/crazed person If I cant drive...

Again,Ford sucks and computers in general suck,its just a way to limit peoples movements.I know some drones will like this,for you..I hope you enjoy being told what/how to do things and where and what and how to do things,as in the future every movement will be tracked by some government official,the future doesnt look good kid !

Doe, Do you realize the computers and the software has to be created, built, serviced and maintained etc?

The argument that mechanization destroys jobs has been around since the 19th century, with the advent of the machine.

It doesn’t destroy jobs; it replaces some and creates new ones.
As long as you have a growing, prosperous economy, that is...and this is the problem under Bambi. Our economy in this stagnant welfare state is anything but growing and healthy, and even if we had a country of nothing but manual labor and tallying things up on an abacus, we’d still have unemployment (both those who can’t find jobs and those who don’t care to work).

Good job Ford! Replacing general labor employees with robots will help keep cost down, so that they can continue to build quality cars and trucks without using bailout money.

Ignoring all the biased comments above, the testing as described simply cannot simulate all aspects of ten years of abuse in a mere three months.

It ignores the extremes in temperature, the dryness of desert heat, flooding, fog, salt water due to oceanfront operation or winter road clearing. It ignores the likelihood of electronic connections affected by these extremes not just once, but repeated heating and cooling over the course of ten years WHILE on the road.

Without taking weathering over that same 10-year period into consideration, the testing is useless.

Yes, people don't design or build robots. I'm sure robots build robots, and those robots are built by robots too. No humans anywhere. The sky is falling!

It is not useless. It is meant to help testing and I think they are going to be very successful. They can also build more challenging courses that a human couldn't take. Until now, 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.

Could you describe one of those "certain rigorous courses" that a human could only drive once per day?

I acknowledge that there are Federal mandates on how long a professional driver can remain behind the wheel before a break. I acknowledge that if ALL you are testing is the durability of the vehicle over a period of time to the exclusion of typical lifetime driving conditions, then maybe again you are right. But just because a car or truck can take 100,000 miles of punishment in three months on a controlled course doesn't mean that the same vehicle can handle that same punishment over 10 years, driving that course every single day, rain or shine, summer or winter, under typical road maintenance conditions.

I've seen computers fail after only a couple of winters--a cold solder joint causing intermittent problems that take more years before becoming a hard--and therefore locatable--failure. I've seen this in GM, Ford and yes, even Chrysler products (I've only owned one foreign vehicle and that was a Mitsubishi pickup back in '83). The more heavily it relies on electronic gadgetry, the more likely it is to fail during or soon after its warranty expires. Ameliorating conditions such as parking the vehicle in a garage when not in use will extend that system's life, as well as annual mileage equal to or less than the US average of 12K-15K.

What good is a truck that can go 100,000 miles over logging roads in three months if when it reaches the real world it dies after only 36,000 miles and requires expensive repairs?

It was said they were only allowed to drive certain rigorous courses once per day. This could be set by Ford, the unions, the human body common sense. Who said anything about the feds? A human can do a lot of things, but that doesn't mean he should or that there isn't a better way.

There are a battery of tests. Until now, 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.

If this is meaningless to you, just ignore it. The point you are missing is this helps testing and is better than anything that is done currently.

But with your way of driving each truck for 10 years is impossible and nothing would get done at all. That's why you simulate the wear the best you can. Learn to accept that and stop being so ostentatious.

http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=38168

If you had said it doesn't simulate 10 years of real world wear, and explained that, you may have a leg to stand on.

But then you went off on how it was all useless and no good. You are just flat out wrong here. It is very helpful and in many cases it can be worse than 10 years of wear and tear. But keep on trolling.

@Jason, I agree. I think this will improve the validity and reliability of the testing, by removing human subjectivity.

Here we are, whining and complaining about how unreliable or how many jobs are lost with automation.

The reality is this, when cars and trucks first hit the streets well over one hundred years ago, how reliable where they? Didn't a lot of drivers have a mechanic to keep the vehicles running?

The same goes for mass production which in part relied on what people then thought was automated. Conveyors, forklifts, pnuematic tools etc.

This is the next extension of mass production and robotic automation has been around since the 70s.

So jobs are lost, but the people needed to maintain this equipment are highly skilled. Other jobs will be created in the future that we can't even fathom, like jobs to maintain and operate this test equipment.

I would love to see most mundane jobs removed and replaced by robotics.

To those who are complaining, don't use vending machines either or use parking lots with automated ticketing, or e-tag tollways, GPS, smartphone and on and on.

I was on the Paris Metro a couple of weeks ago and the the metro has automated lines, with automated ticketing. It was fine.

Don't come an post on this web site with your electronic magic.

But like anything in life if you can benefit personally then robotics are okay I suppose. If you can't or don't comprehend this technology, then you are fearful of the unknown.

It appears that Jason doesn't know how to read, since I explained exactly that the first time. As a result the testing itself, whether driven by humans or driven by machines IS useless, unless they are testing for specific results.

Again, the tests can not and do not represent 10 years of driving, only 10 years of punishment at the hands of a driver. It ignores all other aspects of longevity.

Vulpine is a hater. If you're not driving an old pickup or a minitruck you don't know what you're doing. Anything new or a new way is no good.

Finally in 2012 he "gives in" and decides he has a need for a pickup, he hadn't owned a pickup before and now he knows it all of course.

http://forums.pickuptrucks.com/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=619612&page=3

Ah, hello, DM. I see you have a new username.

I guess you've forgotten my history since you obviously misremember it. I never stated I had NEVER owned a pickup truck, only that I had a current need for a truck and that the one chosen was the best available for the price. I also CLEARLY stated I would have preferred a smaller truck even there. Thank you for so succinctly pointing out that I DO know what I'm talking about.

@Jason,

The poster has been at this non-stop forever.

(Thank you for link)

I have read that some tests limit the time a test driver can stay at the wheel. The famous/infamous Ford Rock creek test is an example.
@vulpine - there are variables that cannot be tested for with robotic drivers. They can simulate the pounding a vehicle will go through in 10 years with robotic drivers.
Don't you think they have a very good idea as to how vehicles are used?
IF a delivery driver drives over speed bumps 20 times/day and hits a curb 10 times/day, they accelerate wear by running over curbs and speed bumps 24/7 .
As far as heat and cold cycles, remember the EB 3.5 torture video's or GMC's 2014 teaser video's, they have test chambers that heat or freeze and robotic devices that shake the crap out of the vehicle.
Sure, it isn't the same as handing the keys to some brainless member of the public, but how else can they be sure a product will hold up?

Not DM. Try again.

@Lou: They don't know; they can only guess as too many of their products--and again I don't care what brand--have problems that never would occur if they were built better. Things like a cold solder joint are almost impossible to detect yet create annoying glitches that last for years, until they finally fail completely. Were those electronics properly soldered originally they would last the lifetime of the vehicle.

@Jason: So what? Straw Man attacks are Straw Man attacks. Trying to destroy somebody's credibility on a subject by attacking that person has no relevance to the subject at hand. If you're not DM, then fine, you're not. That really makes no difference when you comment the same way he does and tries to twist every argument so he can give the impression of winning an argument even when he loses. I don't fault people for having an opinion on something, but I do fault them for trying to say they speak for everyone when they're speaking only for themselves.

For some reason, I think of the remote operator as Homer Simpson.

@Vulpine
We you couldn't be more correct about DM. He fears change and if a comment doesn't suit his paradigms politcally he will diverge from a topic or try and bring unrelated issue into debate. If that doesn't work he will multipost your previous comments, so be weary of this lump of $hit.

I don't agree with you on cold soldering. Cold soldered joints have become very reliable.

You are correct in that intermittent fails caused by cold soldered joints is hard to find. You can increase your chances of finding these faults by using a Megger, just using a multimeter and testing for impedence isn't that good.

@Lou
Computer modelling is currently used in the design phase of most manufactured products including motor vehicles. This is prior to even the physical testing. Computer modelling will get to the point one day when we will not be required to physically test products.

When this occurs people will complain that no physical testing is being carried out.

I have a lot of faith in computer assisted testing. The more we can remove humans from testing the better our results will be. Remember human factors?

But it will be only as good as the programmed inputs are. So as we develop new materials, that are probably computer designed we will have software to test it.

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Vulpine, It is relevant when you do what you do. You lost your own credibility when you presented yourself as an expert who knows everything about everything, when in reality you're just a hack that trolls all of the new pickup truck threads here.

The power of the internet is a beautiful thing... You owned a Mitsu pickup in 1983, and then you got back in and bought a 1990 F-150 last year. Useless describes your negative comments well.

Vulpine is another one of those guys who says he hates the (new) full-sizes or "road whales" as he calls them. Now he is hating on the new testing procedures. It's the same old story with these inferiority complexes, not being "up to the mark", so they just hate on everything. They don't hate new stuff, they just hate good stuff, good stuff didn't happen to them so they just hate good stuff. They're driving around in a 25 year old pickup and looking at the guy in 2014 like he made a stupid decision. Don't worry about the new stuff. Just worry about you and how to get the duct tape off your taillight.

@Vulpine:

You’re a one-trick pony. Ford is trying to make the testing better. How else are they going to do it? Why hate on them when you have others who aren't doing this kind of strenuous testing? Grow a brain, keep driving your 1990 pickup, and stop hating the improvements in every post.

Guts

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@Lou,
Toughness begins here.

Ram Trucks Torture Testing: Extreme Heat
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_dAjXg5YF0

Ram Trucks Torture Testing: Extreme Cold
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6Z2jL85f3Q

The Rambo Motard Sheep herders have been feeding on a sour teet. Cut and paste lame assed advertising. Their testing isn't much different than anyone else's testing.
A longer warranty is just as much advertising as it is insurance.

I'm not hating on Ford, Paul, I'm hating on current manufacturing techniques that take shortcuts when assembling parts. Wave soldering is fast, but is so miserly with the solder itself that a cold solder joint--a cracked connection in essence--is quite common, especially when in an extreme environment like a car or truck. Vibration, heat, cold, moisture; all affect the longevity of electronic components and it's not something that can be tested in a mere three months of road testing, whether driven by people or by machines.

I believe in building quality products and I'm willing to pay more for that quality when I can afford it. When I can't, then I will do as I can to perform my own repairs. I've repaired more than one vehicle's radio and climate control system by simply accessing the circuit boards and resoldering them. I've done the same for a couple different BCM computers. I KNOW how difficult it is to even locate the problem until there's a complete failure--which by then is cheaper to replace than even attempt to repair.

As one fellow technician once said, "You get what you pay for; You pay for what you get."


This is all you need to know about Vulpine or DWF or whoever he is...

@DWFields, Vulpine or whoever you are today: We get it you have an old F150 that you hate (bought last year and is now an expert) but it's better than a new one cause it's smaller. All (new) large trucks are "road whales". Everyone should drive small trucks. Large trucks cost too much to you. You know more about what everyone needs than they do (and more about testing than the manufacturers.) Anyone driving a larger truck than you has issues with their sexuality and wants to be a trucker. Seriously you tell us in every post you make.

Posted by: Alton | Sep 30, 2012 4:50:03 AM

@ATP: Nice of you to go looking for ways to attack me. It's obvious you know nothing about me and have to go searching for other people's opinions rather than creating your own. You only do my job for me by doing so.

Of course, that doesn't make that other person's opinions any more correct now than they were then.

I see the same crap is going on in the comment section of PUTC. Some of you need to get use to change and yes not all change is good as not everything in life is perfect. What Ford is doing makes perfect sense and saves money. Ideally some human testing would be combined with this testing. In 40 years of being an Accountant I have seen Accounting departments go from hand kept Journals and Ledgers to Excel spreadsheets. I have not heard anyone wanting to go back to the Journals and Ledgers. I have also seen tax documents go from mountains of paper to E-file with less errors and more accuracy reducing processing costs. Robotic welders are much better than humans.

As for Denver Mike I doubt if he is interested in this article as much as bashing midsize trucks. I will say that I doubt Ford is the only manufacturer testing with robots. The Japanese and Koreans like to use robotic technology as well.

Kudos to ford for advancing vehicle testing. Lots of benefits. Maybe some day the technology can replace me so I can sit in the back seat while getting ready for work.

Have some of you not seen the "paint shakers" and/or the robots that open and close the doors thousands times both of which are used for durability testing?

As pointed out the robots create high tech jobs. Not all is lost.

From USAT:
"Some routes always had a limited amount of time drivers could spend on them," said Dave Payne, manager of vehicle development operations. "There are three routes we don't let drivers go on at all anymore. It was too hard on them."

(snip)

The first production vehicle tested was a prototype for the 2015 SuperDuty pickup. The equipment is also testing the new Transit full-size commercial van, Expedition, Explorer, F-150, Fusion and Fiesta.

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Keywords. Protoptype for the 2015 SuperDuty...

I think I just found a hint in writing as to what model year the new SuperDuty will be!

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/06/15/ford-puts-robots-at-the-wheel/2427107/

From the DetNews:
The robots — in name only; they’re mechanical contraptions and look nothing like humans — drive specified routes as fast as 80 miles per hour, for now, using global position system technology, similar to how a smartphone guides a user to a particular destination. The project, which started last fall on a 2015 Super Duty pickup truck, has been three years in the making, brought on partly because of necessity but also to increase testing efficiency.

“We’re going so fast and so tough now that on some of our roads, we can’t even allow our drivers to go on them anymore,” said Dave Payne, Ford’s manager of vehicle development operations, at the proving grounds this week. “We’re taking our tougher routes and changing them over to robotic testing.”

------

Yep, the new Super Duty will be a 2015. This is great news.

That would be great if the new Super Duty hits the roads next year. That means next year is the year of the big diesel trucks. Another HD truck shootout!

Rumors say the new F-150 will be at the Detroit Auto Show in January. With this latest word on the 2015 Super Duty, I'll deduct that the new Super Duty will be at the State Fair of Texas. Big things are happening.

New SD news: Complete makeover...new body...and several weight saving engineering ideas to help the company average...they are good to go.

That's from the KTP forum.

We should start seeing the spy pics soon.

Looking forward to it. To be honest, I am a little disappointed with the GMs effort for 2014 (knowing we don't have all the details of the HD trucks yet), and Ram didn't do enough to make the Cummins more fuel efficient. Hopefully Ford brings something worth getting excited about.

Watch the video on this link for more on the testing. The first couple human drivers only lasted 2 or 3 days and said "no more!" Testing is getting a lot faster and tougher. Drivers are happy not to be driving over these areas anymore. The robots can also drive in the dark 24/7.

http://www.freep.com/article/20130615/BUSINESS0102/306150009/Ford-robot-test-Transit-F-Series

Good catch on the testing on 2015 Ford HD's. That bit of news is more interesting than sat nav guided full sized RC trucks/vans ;)

Maybe pickuptrucks.com or Ford could use the autonomous devices to do an unbiased comparison or review.

@Alex
I don't know how much more effort they would put into the diesels in the HDs.

One of the issues is you can manufacture smaller more efficient diesels with the same power and torque figures.

I would like to see the HDs in the US look at developing modern 4 litre class diesels. This size should be able to produce the same figures as the current HD diesels.

Like I've stated in the past Cummins has a nice ISF 3.8 diesel.



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