Ford's Secret Weapon: the RUTH Robot

Human touch is extremely difficult cu replicate in a lab. However, the engineers at Ford have developed a robot known as RUTH (Robotized Unit for Tactility and Haptics) to help them refine various touch points around the vehicle's interior. Ford is reportedly the world’s first carmaker to use a robot to scientifically test the feel and appearance of switches and surfaces.

Engineers at Ford's European Research Center in Aachen, Germany used the robot in developing the interiors of the European models of the new Focus and Fiesta, versions of which are set to be introduced in the US in 2010.

"Instead of telling our suppliers we want a certain surface soft, we can give them the data curve for a particular softness requirement based on RUTH's calculations," Mark Spingler, Vehicle Interior Technologies engineer for Ford of Europe, said in a release. "This means a characteristic like soft is no longer a subjective input. We can provide our suppliers with objective data so that the final product is so precise that we practically eliminate the need for numerous iterations to get what we want."

Ford engineers gave some examples of RUTH's uses, which are listed below:

  • Measuring the resistance of pushing buttons and turning knobs to make sure they don't feel too loose or have too much resistance. The robot also compares the different buttons and knobs to one another, to ensure they have a uniform feel.
  • Determining softness, hardness and texture of surfaces like the dashboard to ensure they fall within limits consumers have shown they prefer.
  • Taking the temperature of components so materials match expectations. For instance, a metallic-colored knob should feel cool, while a wooden trim piece should feel warm in order to be perceived as high quality.
  • Measuring the spaces between pieces to minimize gaps for a tight look throughout.

"All of these little measurements add up to a much greater sense of quality from the moment you sit down inside a Ford," said Spingler. "We're leading the way in measuring touch so that high quality interiors can be delivered in affordable cars, not just expensive luxury models. We're able to convey in numbers exactly how something needs to feel and build exactly to those specifications. It takes the guesswork out and replaces it with science."
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