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I, robot driver.
June 18, 2013 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Ford has replaced its human test drivers with robots.
posted by storybored (14 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Buster is looking for a new job?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:05 PM on June 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


If anyone was wondering:
The robotic system guiding the van, developed by Ford in partnership with Autonomous Solutions of Petersboro, Utah, depends on global positioning sensors. The GPS ability relies on the same satellites that help a smartphone find a restaurant, but it is far more precise. Accurate to one inch, it uses correction technology similar to that employed by systems that land airplanes.
What they're talking about is almost certainly a differential GPS system, which uses (known) precisely positioned local GPS receivers that work in a radio network with the mobile GPS unit where a correction factor is calculated which allows much more precise positioning than regular GPS can manage. "Known precisely positioned" means surveyed locations which have positions known relative to each other exactly. This will get the precision down to inches, according to Wikipedia; I'd expect that they'd be using an inertial system in conjunction with this, which maybe brings it to within an inch.

The point is that a mobile GPS unit is never going to be able to do this on its own with the current GPS system, no matter how much additional tech you load into it — you need other, stationary units with very precisely known locations working in a network with the mobile unit in order to accomplish this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:03 PM on June 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


All we have to do now is give the robots bank accounts, mortgages, car loans and student debt to pay for their programming.
posted by islander at 10:10 PM on June 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ford is... a little bit behind. The advent of less expensive Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) is pushing things very quickly.

For a gentle, amazingly geeky, tiny and occasionally pepsi blue introduction to the state of robotics, check out out this video from 2009 is from David Barrett, of Olin College.
posted by underflow at 10:21 PM on June 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Calling this a "robot driver" is a little weird. They're just making the cars run through the course autonomously, essentially making the cars themselves robotic. A "robot driver" brings to mind a humanoid robot that can get in and out of cars and drive them around using the human interface.
posted by delmoi at 11:00 PM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Several more people unemployed
posted by Cranberry at 12:03 AM on June 19, 2013


I'm always pro-robots taking over existing jobs, especially jobs no one expected, but.. Ford is the robot drivers for "durability testing". A priori, "durability testing" sounds like arduous work, maybe this should've happened five years ago.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:00 AM on June 19, 2013


All we have to do now is give the robots bank accounts, mortgages, car loans and student debt to pay for their programming.

And maybe one day someone will invent the first robot capable of qualifying for a boat loan.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:44 AM on June 19, 2013


A story I heard from someone who worked in engineering was that most companies have developed robots that would get in and out of the driver seat several thousand times in order to simulate the lifetime wear your butt inflicts on the seat (apparently, the twisting motion of your butt is particularly damaging). I was laughing at the vision of a robot rubbing its bum on the car seat over and over, day and night, for weeks, then he said that apparently they still pay real humans to do this job in third world countries where labour is cheaper than robots.
posted by xdvesper at 4:33 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


What they're talking about is almost certainly a differential GPS system, which uses (known) precisely positioned local GPS receivers that work in a radio network with the mobile GPS unit where a correction factor is calculated which allows much more precise positioning than regular GPS can manage. "Known precisely positioned" means surveyed locations which have positions known relative to each other exactly. This will get the precision down to inches, according to Wikipedia; I'd expect that they'd be using an inertial system in conjunction with this, which maybe brings it to within an inch.

The point is that a mobile GPS unit is never going to be able to do this on its own with the current GPS system, no matter how much additional tech you load into it — you need other, stationary units with very precisely known locations working in a network with the mobile unit in order to accomplish this.


I agree. The GPS system is great for a lot of things, but actually driving cars on roads is a little too fine grained to be done without some other assistance.
posted by gjc at 6:45 AM on June 19, 2013


Several more people unemployed

If crash testing is part of the gig, they can have the job...
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:54 AM on June 19, 2013


I live about a mile from this test track. For years, when I've stepped outside late at night with the dog I'd hear the vehicles zoop-zoop-zoop-zooping in the distance over what I'd assumed were cobblestones. Sometimes, quite late at night, like past Midnight. I wondered why they were working so late, but now I see that it was probably just robots.

Related; for a prior job I visited the test facility for a major automotive seat manufacturer. They had a robot that would sit in and out of seats over and over and over. The seats were arranged it a circle and the thing would just work it's way around. Like duck, duck, goose. On that tour I also held in my hand their model of a human head. It was much heavier that you'd think it would be.
posted by bricksNmortar at 7:11 AM on June 19, 2013


The continuous on-road torture is punishing and could wreak havoc on both chassis-components and a driver’s spine, but this test driver doesn’t mind.
That’s because the driver is a robot — a robotic autonomous device — and it has not been programmed to complain.


I HAVE NO MOUTH AND MUST COMPLAIN
posted by Greg Nog at 9:11 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I HAVE NO MOUTH AND MUST COMPLAIN"

Harlan Ellison's Office Space.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2013


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