As much fun as test driving pre-production cars may seem, cruising around a course meant to see how hard a car can take a beating usually means a few hits to the human inside as well. Not to mention the fact that human drivers are notoriously high maintenance -- always wanting things like "food" and "sleep" and "legal compensation". So in order to overcome both these obstacles, Ford is taking advantage of self-driving technology to put its cars through the ultimate durability tests.
Autonomous Solutions partnered with Ford to develop the robotic motorists, which uses a GPS-based system that's accurate to 2.5cm. Such a high level of precision means that up to eight autonomous cars can cruise around a test track at the same time -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because another major perk of the mechanical car fiends is the fact that not only do they not require rest, but they can test for long hours without any detriment to their ability to perfectly duplicate.
Interestingly, the way these autonomous cars functions is actually very similar to Apple's newest pet startup's car, Anki Drive. The cars use a wireless connection to send their speed and location to a single-user-operated control room. Usually, the huge array of sensors and cameras will keep the car on-track and handle any bumps in the road, but the operator does have the ability to take over any single car at a time.
The next step for Ford will be to turn this fully robotic driver into an even more sensitive vehicle that can operate safely next to other human drivers -- on test tracks, at first, but road-ready cars are sure to follow. And they'd likely be sharing the highway with Google's own fleet of self-driving cars, which Nevada has just recently set loose on its own streets. Each of Google's vehicles are still required to have two real-live people inside at all times, but as technology improves and more motor companies jump on board, it's only a matter time before we're all cruising along hands-free. And then we enter the Singularity. [Engadget]