Every car maker and Silicon Valley giant seems to be getting into the autonomous vehicle game. That’s because fully autonomous driving is the future, and companies want to capture a slice of what will become a major, disruptive market. In fact, we don’t have to wait until some far-off date, as driverless technology is already being used, developed, and refined every single day.

One of the primary motivators for the rapid adoption of autonomous driving technology is its potential to dramatically reduce traffic collisions and save lives. In 2015, there were an estimated 35,000 motor vehicle deaths, with the majority of all crashes caused by human error. Having smart AI take the wheel can improve safety. It already is.

Proving grounds are where car makers send their vehicles for durability and misuse testing. These facilities feature miles of tracks that automotive companies use to put their latest model, or one up for recall, through extreme conditions so they can analyze how it performs, and evaluate it for manufacturing defects or design miscalculations.

In the past, a human had to sit in the driver’s seat and steer the vehicle aroundthe course. Inserting a person into an unproven test vehicle and sending them down very hazardous tracks which are purposefully designed with the worst imaginable road conditions. Injuries or even deaths could occur from rough durability tracks, jumps, vehicle rolls, and other scenarios, making the proving grounds a dangerous place – but not anymore.

At Autonomous Solutions Inc., we specialize in engineering independent vehicle automation systems that remove the human from the driver’s seat, and out of harm’s way. Our researchers have developed technology for proving ground automation, bringing safety to durability and misuse testing.

We’ve partnered with some of the largest automotive brands in the world to improve the safety and efficiency of their durability and misuse testing. Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and Hyundai all trust ASI’s Mobius on their proving grounds.

We’ve even worked with the U.S. Air Force, applying our automation kits to drive vehicles pulling target sleds from a control center 50 miles away!

Our vehicle automation systems start with installing hardware into test vehicles to control steering, acceleration, braking, and transmission. Then, equipped with our intelligent Mobius command and control platform, remote operators are able to send the vehicle down specific drive paths. A single operator can even control multiple vehicles, interacting in the same area or different locations for increased productivity.

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At the end of last year, ten of the world's largest consumer vehicle manufacturers combined to announce that automated emergency braking systems would be a standard feature in all new vehicle models produced by the companies. The move is designed to reduce the number of rear end collisions which make up about a third of all accidents.

and autonomous braking system braking for a vehicle

While each manufacturer's system would work differently, the fundamental concept is the same: if forward facing sensors detect a slower moving or stopped vehicle ahead, the brakes automatically engage without driver intervention. "We are entering an era of vehicle safety, focused on preventing crashes from ever occurring, rather than just protecting occupants when crashes happen," said Anthony Foxx, US Transportation Secretary in the Los Angeles Times article.

"We are entering an era of vehicle safety, focused on preventing crashes from ever occurring, rather than just protecting occupants when crashes happen,"

Regardless of where your opinion falls on this specific topic, it's important to recognize that the automatic emergency braking system is just one of several autonomous vehicle technologies that have or will shortly make it into consumer vehicles. Advances such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, and automatic parallel parking have already made their debut and are becoming increasingly affordable options. In each case, the combination of sensors and intelligent action on the part of the vehicle has its roots in robotics. The benefits to safety and convenience will continue to push the industry toward robotic vehicles.

However, because of the substantial legal issues involved, the unmanned industry generally has steered clear of consumer vehicles. California recently released draft regulation proposals signaling that liability of these vehicles could rest on the vehicle manufacturers. Nothing has been passed on the federal or state level though so some are still trying to anticipate the eventual adoption of fully automated vehicles on public roads and what it will take to get the industry there. For example, the University of Michigan, in partnership with the Michigan DOT, have created Mcity, a mock "downtown" that simulates the unexpected variables that come with driving in urban conditions, allowing manufacturers to test autonomous vehicles in a realistic environment. ASI also expanded its test facilities in northern Utah to allow for simulating some of these situations.

Fully autonomous systems have already been successfully applied to consumer vehicles in closed/controlled environments. Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) has been working with Ford Motor Company since 2011 and developed a robotic durability testing program. Robotic technology is retrofitted to new vehicle models and operated from a central command center at Ford's Michigan Proving Ground facility. The robotic technology enables Ford to remove human drivers from the most punishing test tracks and run durability testing 24/7.

Despite the progress of the University of Michigan, ASI, and other innovators like Google with their Google Car program, full adoption of autonomous vehicles on the road still seems a ways in the future. But that's not to say that we won't continue to see individual autonomous technologies, such as automatic emergency braking, trickle into the consumer market.

Volatility in the mining industry caused by, amongst other things, shrinking global demand and record low commodity prices has left mining companies looking for ways to retool their organizations and processes to cope with what some are calling the “new normal.” Mining majors are beginning to exhaust classic short term fixes, such as Anglo American’s massive restructure that would release 85,000 workers over the next few years, and are now looking to other sources to achieve long term productivity and process improvements.

In the shadow of these challenges, Deloitte released "Tracking the Trends 2016 " The report is designed to focus on the current issues in the mining industry and provide suggestions on where miners can go to meet these challenges. We previously focused on Deloitte’s recommendation to invest in innovation and the massive productivity gains achieved by several mining companies by leveraging technology.

In another strategy, Deloitte suggests mining companies build bridges with other industries to learn and incorporate lessons on process optimization. The manufacturing and automotive industries in particular have a long history with lean production systems as well as investment in robotic technology.

The mining industry can learn from the automotive industry's automation

"The Ford Motor Company is a salient case in point," says Deloitte. "In 2006, the company lost over US$12 billion following a collapse in consumer demand. Between 2011 and 2014, however, Ford realized annual profits ranging from US$6.2 billion to US$8.3 billion."

One of the reasons for this dramatic turnaround—of which we at ASI have a particularly intimate knowledge—was Ford's willingness to
"embrace emerging technologies, such as robotics, self-driving vehicles, connecting vehicles to the cloud, and hybrid and electric vehicle development."
Since 2011, ASI has been working with Ford to develop a robotic durability testing program . The program improves safety by removing test drivers from the most jarring test tracks and improves productivity by allowing vehicles to test 24/7. The same automation technologies that delivered productivity and safety improvements to Ford's durability testing program can be realized in mining vehicle automation.

“Although there are as many differences between the automotive and mining sectors as there are similarities,” Deloitte concluded,
“forward-thinking miners can likely make unanticipated productivity gains by taking lessons from this example.”

Looking to and leveraging lessons learned by other industries may hold the key for improving productivity for mining companies, but this is just one of the suggestions offered by Deloitte. To explore additional suggestions and to gear up for mining in 2016,

Safety is ASI's number one priority. Requesting a safety audit from HORIBA MIRA helps ASI evaluate and enhance its internal processes to ensure that rigorous international safety standards are continually in place to be met.Safety is ASI's number one priority. Requesting a safety audit from HORIBA MIRA helps ASI evaluate and enhance its internal processes to ensure that rigorous international safety standards are continually in place to be met.

ASI is pleased to have been audited by an external auditor Dr. David Ward of HORIBA MIRA. ASI engineering processes were reviewed over a period of 4 days this summer and the approach to the functional safety of our products was assessed against a range of international functional safety engineering standards including IEC 61508, ISO 26262, ISO 17757 and ISO 13849.

“It’s a pleasure working with HORIBA MIRA and David Ward. He’s a professional of the utmost integrity and patience, always pragmatic and extremely knowledgeable in a broad range of sectors including Mining, Security, Agriculture and Automotive where ASI customers are realizing huge savings and productivity improvements through using our products and services,” says Jonathan Moore, ASI Chief Engineer.

“As autonomous solutions become more widespread in automotive and industrial applications it’s important that we demonstrate their dependability, compliance with functional safety standards is an important aspect of demonstrating a rigorous approach to product design and implementation,” says Dr. David Ward, HORIBA MIRA.

“It’s encouraging to see a technology innovator embodying these principles as part of their core engineering processes.”

ASI Steering Robot on a Ford F-150

ASI’s Automation Kit will be featured on cable TV’s popluar show Translogic. The episode will air on Velocity some date in the near future, click the link below to see the clip now.

Translogic producer, Jonathan Buckley, takes a ride in a Ford truck that has no driver. Instead, it is equipped with one of ASI’s automation robots.

Ford uses ASI’s driverless solutions on vehicles at their Michigan proving ground on tracks designed to put vehicles through the toughest of tests. These tests can be abusive on human drivers and there are limits to how long a driver can operate a vehicle on these types of tracks. So using these automation kits for Ford provides safe, accurate, and repeatable results.

See ASI’s Automation Kit in action at the Ford Proving Grounds.

A 2014 Ford Transit Van drives on a proving ground in MichiganASI's robotic durability testing technology helps Ford perform test events that are too taxing for human drivers. Recent talks have shown the European automotive market is also highly interested in proving ground automation.

Members of ASI's sales and product development teams recently returned from attending the Automotive Testing Expo 2014 Europe held in Stuttgart, Germany. Testing engineers and OEMs from all over the world gather at the Europe Expo to discuss the latest technologies that will make automotive testing safer and more efficient. ASI representatives were able to establish relationships with European-based OEMs that are looking to vehicle robotics as a testing solution and identify key technology trends in the automotive industry.

The following discusses some of the industry trends ASI representatives discovered at the Expo and how these trends impact proving ground automation.

Impact of Emissions Regulations.

In past years, manual transmissions dominated the European vehicle market due to lower production cost and higher fuel efficiency. However, as European countries sharpen their focus on reducing vehicle emissions (in the form of severe fines for noncompliance), OEMs are responding by producing more vehicles with automatic transmissions which allow the OEMs greater control over shifting and fuel consumption.

This is good news for ASI's vehicle automation technologies that are highly effectively with automatic transmissions.

On November 1, 2013, Autonomous Solutions, Inc. celebrated their thirteenth year of business. Since November 2000, ASI has automated more than sixty different types of vehicles; deploy hundreds of robots worldwide; and provided solutions that improve productivity and safety in challenging spaces, including: military, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, and automotive.

As the year winds down, we have an opportunity to pause and reflect on the past and make resolutions for the future. This past year was full of exciting events, notable implementations, product releases, and industry awards.

This article will take you through some of the more prominent happenings during ASI's Year Thirteen.

Mar 2013—ASI adopts AGILE development methodology
To deliver the best possible product while being able to accommodate customer feedback, ASI teams adopt AGILE development methodologies.

Apr 2013—Guideline Receives Bronze Edison Award
On April 25th, the prestigious Edison Awards selected ASI's Guideline Robotic Convoy product as a 2013 Bronze winner. Guideline is a tethered, unmanned convoy system currently undergoing in-theater testing.

Ford Robotic Durability Program

Jun 2013—Ford Motor Company Announces Robotic Program
Ford Motor Company announced its robotic durability testing program designed to protect drivers from their most punishing test tracks. ASI's automotive team worked with Ford engineers for three years to supply the vehicle robotics for Ford's program.

Jul 2013—USPTO Issues Two New Trademarks
ASI adds to its store of intellectual property with two new trademarks for the Forecast 3D laser system and the Vantage obstacle detection and avoidance system.

Aug 2013—ASI Announces New Forge Robotic Platform at AUVSI
ASI unveils the new Forge robotic platform at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2013 conference in Washington DC. The new product answer the need for an x-by-wire robotic platform usable across multiple industries.

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Mitch Torrie and Dave Payne at the Open Technology Forum
Mitch Torrie speaks with Dave Payne at the Automotive Testing Expo 2014 NA Open Technology Forum in October.

Standing room only. Attendees congregated to a presentation at the Automotive Testing Expo 2013 North America by ASI's Mitch Torrie and Ford Motor Company's Dave Payne.

The presentation was part of the Expo's Open Technology Forum, which gives companies a platform to discuss advancements in the vehicle testing field. In the twenty minute session, Torrie and Payne shared insights, statistics, and answered questions about the recently announced Ford robotic durability testing program.

"This was definitely an area of interest," said Eric Budd, ASI Sales Manager who attended the session. "The presentation demonstrated some of the results that a major OEM is using to justify investment in automation technology. People want to see why."

"I was impressed by the data correlation that Ford brought," recalled Torrie.

The durability program was initially designed to protect drivers from prolonged exposure to punishing track conditions, but the correlation statistics from the session also established some evidence that robotic vehicles perform more consistently on the tracks than their human counterparts.

Human drives may slow down, brace for impact, or make other slight adjustments throughout a testing event that can cause variability in testing data. Robotic drivers are much less susceptible to these minor variations.

Torrie was also excited about the miles that automated test vehicles have driven at Ford's proving ground in Romeo, Michigan.

According to Ford's statistics, autonomous vehicles have been responsible for accumulating in excess of 48,000 miles across some of the most physically taxing track conditions Michigan has to offer.

"This technology is not a research project," explained Torrie. "It's accumulating thousands of miles per month and is a viable alternative to exposing human drivers to durability testing events."

The successful implementation of vehicle robotics at Ford's durability testing facility continues to capture the attention of the automotive testing industry. Ford and ASI engineering teams were recently honored by the Automotive Testing Technology International magazine with their Hardware Innovation of the Year Award.

Hardware Innovation of the Year AwardASI and Ford Motor Company received the 2013 Hardware Innovation of the Year Award from the Automotive Testing Technology International group


PETERSBORO, UT—November 18, 2013. The Automotive Testing International magazine announced today that Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) and Ford Motor Company won the 2013 Hardware Innovation of the Year Award. The two companies teamed up to develop Ford's robotic durability testing program which was officially announced in June. The program uses robotic components and software developed by ASI to convert Ford testing vehicles from manual to robotic control. The automation technology improves safety for test drivers who were at risk of injury from prolonged exposure to rough test tracks.

"Removing the risk of long-term spinal injuries to human test drivers from essential durability trials demonstrates a commitment by Ford to both its employees undertaking the work, as well as to the customers for whom it develops vehicles that can take the punishment," said Keith Read, columnist for the Automotive Testing Technology International publication and member of judging body for the award.

Ford engineers worked with ASI specialists for three years to develop, tune, and test the robotic kits for use at Ford's Michigan Proving Grounds. Ford test vehicles equipped with robotic technology have now accumulated tens of thousands of miles of testing data.

"We are honored to be selected for this year's Hardware Innovation of the Year Award," said Mel Torrie, President and CEO of ASI. "This award represents the hard work and ingenuity of many talented individuals from both Ford and ASI. Ford's robotic durability program shows how far unmanned technology has come and how useful it can be to improve safety and productivity."

The Hardware Innovation of the Year Award is given annually to recognize innovative technology solutions in the automotive vehicle development community. Readers and editorial staff contribute nominations which are reviewed by an independent body of expert judges.

Inside view of the durability robot
Inside the 2014 Ford Transit van, the durability robot hums and whirs as it guides the van across brutal durability obstacles.

"Some of the tests we do on our commercial trucks for North America are so strenuous that we limit the exposure time for human drivers," says Dave Payne, Manager, Vehicle Development Operations for Ford Motor Company. "The challenge is completing testing to meet vehicle development timelines while keeping our drivers comfortable."

Ford announced to the New York Times this weekend the three-year long partnership they have had with ASI to perform driverless durability testing using vehicle robotics.

The technology is designed to help meet Ford's timeline and safety goals by robotically controlling new vehicle models on some of the most punishing durability test tracks Ford has to offer.

"[Ford is] trying to put thousands of miles of abuse on the vehicle as fast as possible so it really beats up on the system," said Mel Torrie, CEO of Autonomous Solutions, Inc. "It takes the durability to a whole new level."

The testing robots are comprised of a series of rugged mechanical and hydraulic actuators that perform basic driving functions, such as changing gears, steering, accelerating, and braking.

Durability testing requirements state that no special modifications be made to the vehicle being tested, so all actuators and moving parts must be retrofit to a vehicle straight off the factory floor. The first-in-industry program was used most recently to test the durability of the 2014 Ford Transit van.