Ford has announced today that it's working with ASI, a Utah-based firm that specializes in vehicle automation, to sell "robotic testing kits" that help automakers endurance test new cars. The kits effectively turn in-development vehicles into rudimentary R/C cars with a hint of self-driving — they can be programmed to hold a course within one inch of error and have sensor arrays to avoid nearby pedestrians and other vehicles — which is convenient for sending test cars down brutal stretches of test track designed to simulate potholes and other hazards that they'll encounter over their useful lives.
From Ford's release:
Robotically driven vehicles are expected to repeatedly perform tests on torturous surfaces with names like Silver Creek, Power Hop Hill and Curb Your Enthusiasm. These tests can compress 10 years of daily driving abuse into courses just a few hundred yards long, with surfaces that include broken concrete, cobblestones, metal grates, rough gravel, mud pits and oversized speed bumps.
Spending days on end hurtling a development vehicle down these kinds of surfaces sounds about as much fun as punching yourself in the face, which is where the notion of automating it comes into play: by installing Ford's kit, a car company can basically let the car test itself. Ford says the system can be disengaged quickly if an engineer needs to get in and drive, but for the bulk of the testing, the car can bounce and jerk all it wants without endangering the backs and necks of the poor employees trying to get the car ready for real roads.
Ford is refusing to reveal which automakers have picked up the kits so far, but it says that "several automotive OEMs" have gotten orders in.