Imagine, for a moment, the roughest patch of road you've ever hit. Jarring potholes, ridiculous speed bumps, loose gravel. Those are all unpleasant experiences for you and your car. When it’s over, sometimes you have to stop, give your dashboard a few strokes, and make sure you and your vehicle are still on speaking terms.
Now add all those obstacles together and multiply by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks out of the year. For durability testers at the automotive proving grounds in Detroit, Michigan and other areas, that is the norm.
Every day, vehicles from the nearby manufacturing plants of major OEMs are tested for durability and endurance over test tracks designed to stress new vehicles to the breaking point.
Historically, human test drivers have been used for durability and endurance testing, but the physical strain can be severe. Drivers are required to work abbreviated shifts, and some still experience medical issues, disability, or early retirement.
However, as part of an ongoing program with a Big 3 automotive OEM partner, Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) is paving ground for a new way to perform vehicle testing.
Using on-board vehicle automation technology and state-of-the art navigation software, ASI is pioneering the use of unmanned vehicles for endurance and durability testing with multiple vehicles. Mel Torrie, President and CEO of ASI, discusses the approach that ASI is using to combine unmanned vehicle technology and automotive testing and the benefits:
"When most people think of robotics, they usually think of bomb robots or vacuums, but there are a lot of other successful applications too. Especially when it comes to durability and endurance testing, unmanned vehicles bring many advantages over human drivers. Without even speaking to the health and safety of drivers, autonomous vehicles can operate 24/7 and can consistently reproduce the testing scenarios over and over.
"Couple this with the ability for one operator to command and monitor many vehicles from a single software interface and now automotive testers have an incredible step change in improved safety, efficiency, and affordability."
Unmanned vehicle technology is not just for testing on slow, bumpy terrain; it can also handle speed. ASI and its OEM partner recently completed trials of continuous autonomous path tracking at highway speeds exceeding 80 mph.
Through autonomous vehicle control, ASI and its partner hope to keep vehicles moving around endurance and durability tracks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Unmanned vehicle technology provides automotive testers with several immediate and significant benefits. Taking human personnel out of vehicles as they drive and maneuver at dangerous speeds or over jarring terrain decreases the physical burden of test drivers.
As the quality of life for test drivers increases the financial burden of medical benefits, disability, and replacements decreases. Removing humans from the driver's seat also allows testers to push the limits of the vehicles, performing more rigorous and dangerous tests at higher speeds, for longer periods of time, and without fear of injury.
Robotic vehicle testing also enables computers to recreate exact testing scenarios many times in a row.
"ASI will continue to provide solutions that increase safety and efficiency for our partners," says Torrie. "Unmanned multiple vehicle testing is not just a wave of the future, it's a very real and affordable solution today."