The toughest road tests conducted by U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co. no longer
have humans behind the wheel, the company said.
Over the years, as demands for vigorous testing increased, human test drivers found themselves bouncing over tough terrain for up to five hours in an eight-hour shift, the Detroit Free Press reported Saturday.
The answer for Ford -- and for those battered kidneys -- was robots, the company said.
Ford now does its toughest road tests with what is, essentially, a $100,000 radio controlled vehicle.
The ultimate present under the Christmas tree for some is a vehicle outfitted with a global positioning system antenna, transmitters, and receivers, cameras, data recorders, a motor on the steering wheel and remote controlled kill-switches.
The vehicles, once rigged up, also shut down when they lose contact with the control tower.
The idea that was rejected some years ago, came about as Ford found itself putting test drivers through all kinds of ouch in order to please ambitious engineers.
"There are three routes we don't let drivers go on at all anymore. It was too hard on them," said Dave Payne, manager of vehicle development operations.
Ford went driver-less with the help of Autonomous Solutions, a company in Utah that specializes in driver-less vehicles for farm use, for mining and for the military, the Free Press said.
"We take the human out of tough, boring jobs," said ASI Chief Executive Officer Mel Torrie.
But then, someday, Ford wants someone behind the wheel to get a human perspective.
"Our brains are wonderful computers so we like to have a driver in there once in a while," Payne said.
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