Ford has been working with a tactile robot arm to evaluate the feel and appearance of surfaces and controls in its vehicles in a bid to make the testing process less subjective and more scientific.
The Robotized Unit for Tactility and Haptics, or RUTH, has been used for several years at the automaker's European Research Center in Aachen, Germany, to check the interiors of the European versions of the new Focus and Fiesta, versions of which are coming to the United States in 2010.
Ford says it's the first carmaker to use a robot like RUTH, which is a modified consumer packaging arm, to scientifically test interiors. Work by the machine is now being seen in production models around the world.
To better respond to customer expectations for quality interiors, RUTH measures parameters such as roughness and temperature on points like the steering wheel, knobs and armrests.
RUTH doesn't have a driver's license yet, but it can manipulate knobs and adjust air vents in design prototypes just like a human driver. The data it collects is used by engineers to ensure controls have the right tactile resistance, firmness, uniformity and other qualities.
By using a machine, Ford can assign specific values to qualities, such as "soft," when designing interiors. Research generated by RUTH is also being used to create vehicles with a consistent look and feel.