DETROIT -- One of the cool tech features on display during the Ford Trends conference this week was Ford Motor Co.'s use of a robot to drive cars as it tests for quality.
This is far from the autonomous car that everyone is talking about lately, but it's still really cool and still a likely step in the direction of the autonomous car.
We had the opportunity to take a spin in a new Ford Transit (think Mercedes Sprinter) sans driver, and it was both cool and disconcerting.
The way it works is that the Transit is set up to follow a pre-mapped course. In this instance, it was a closed-course test track a the Ford proving grounds facility. The vehicle is in constant communication with an actual person who is off site, but the person isn't actually driving the car from afar. He's just there to make sure nothing goes wrong.
But basically, once the operator enables the sequence, the robot takes over. And while the car isn't exactly driving itself, no human is driving either.
A lot of groundwork went into creating this experience from setting the route via GPS to a team of engineers coming up with everything that could go wrong and programming against it.
The end result: a car that doesn't need a human operator behind the wheel.
While future applications for such a system could involve public transit on public roads, the current use at Ford is to test vehicle quality in rocky situations. Literally. Using the robot, you can put a car through a more vigorous set of tests simply because a human isn't inside.
Check out the video of my ride in a driverless Transit below.
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