Ford announced over the weekend that it has engineered the industry’s first robotic test driving program to be utilized at Ford’s Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo, Michigan, most recently for durability testing of the Transit van. The robotic control module controls the vehicle’s steering, acceleration, and braking over a preprogrammed course. Ford worked with Utah-based Autonomous Solutions Inc. for the design and manufacturing of the software and components that transform a Ford test vehicle into an autonomous, robotic entity. Tracking of the un-manned vehicle is accomplished via control room cameras and GPS units, where up to eight robotically-controlled vehicles can be monitored on the track at once.

Humans - unlike their robot counterparts that can work 24/7 - are only allowed to drive Ford trucks through certain rigorous durability tests once a day. Humans - unlike their robot counterparts - tire and need rest. (Hope the control room guy doesn’t fall asleep and miss the signs of a robotic transit van turning rogue!) However, robots are at the mercy of man’s programming (usually – insert sci-fi scene here). Ford hopes this robotic technology will help accomplish two specific goals: to protect human drivers (safety) and to engineer Ford trucks to be even more durable (accuracy).

What do you think of the robotic technology that has allowed for autonomous vehicle testing? What do you think of unmanned vehicles? If you’re like me, the first thing you think of is KITT, Michael Knight’s indestructible ’82 Pontiac Trans Am. And with that, we’ll end with one KITT quote: “There’s nothing worse than a smart-ass automobile.”