To test its trucks and vans on the roughest terrains possible without roughening up and hurting the test drivers irrevocably, Ford developed a special robotic team to endure day-to-day the inevitable danger and tedium on the bumpy tracks.
On Ford's testing grounds in Romeo, Michigan, inconspicuous-looking vehicles daily bounce through several obstacle-laden tracks. Only when you inch closer, you will discover that the driver’s seats are empty—except for the robotic arms propped up by the gear, the brake, and the steering wheel.
Remotely controlled by Ford’s control center, these robots can keep driving in a straight line at the same designated speed again and again, even after they have been asked to drive through the same route thousands of times in order to collect more data and better improve the vehicle’s levels of safety and durability. The terrains these robot drivers are responsible to test on include steep concrete curb edges as well as deep ditches in the snow, all too hazardous for the human body to take for long.
Currently, test drives are still mostly manned by human drivers, since their robotic colleagues can’t exactly inform the engineers that the seating feels "uncomfortable" or that the steering “just feels wrong.” Still, when it comes to the necessary driving “life on the edge," Ford's robotic team makes a large and appreciable contribution along the way.