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Robots replace test drivers at Ford

Ford has become the first company to use robotic modules instead of humans to test their vehicles.

The American manufacturer has claimed their testing of the Transit van and F-Series trucks has been so strenuous, they have to limit the amount human drivers can undertake.

That's where the robots come in. David Payne, Ford North America's vehicle development manager says the challenge is keeping their drivers comfortable and continuing to meet vehicle development times.

"Robotic testing allows us to do both," Payne said, "We accelerate durability testing while simultaneously increasing the productivity of our programs."

Payne say this is achieved by redeploying these drivers to other testing areas, such as noise level and vehicle dynamics testing.

The technology used includes a robotic control module. This unit controls the car's steering, braking and acceleration, and is set to a pre-programmed course.

Ford claim that their tests can compress 10 years of daily driving abuse into a course just a few hundred yards long. However their press video shows a relatively tame testing course, and if their drivers find these 'strenuous', they should try driving through some Sydney car parks.

Not displayed in the video are tests including broken concrete, cobblestone, metal grates, rough gravel, mud pits and oversized speed bumps.

All North American Ford trucks must pass these durability tests before they are certified for customer use. With the use of robots, Ford say these tests can be conducted at a faster rate, and even give them a chance to develop more challenging durability tests then the Sydney carpark test on display.