With all the focus on speed, fuel economy and crumple zones, it’s easy to forget about the little things in car manufacturing – like a comfortable seat, for example.
In 2016, a study from the Automobile Association of America suggested that, on average, Americans spend a total of twelve days per year behind the wheel.
At automotive company Ford, work is underway to make sure the last mile of any journey is as comfortable as the first, using a clever robot or, in this case, a Robutt.
Testing car seats for comfort and durability is one of those monotonous tasks that a robot should really be doing. Ford’s answer to the problem is Robutt, a relentless robotic bottom that ensures its car seats can go the distance.
Perch patterns and a robotic posterior
Despite its tongue-in-cheek name, Robutt represents a phase of manufacturing that Ford takes particularly seriously.
The start of the process is to deploy pressure sensors to examine how people get in and out of cars. Once a ‘perch pattern’ has been identified, the Robutt sits in and out of the position 25,000 times in an effort to simulate ten years of use. The process takes three weeks in total, and seat designs that pass the test are deemed ready for production.
“From the first moment we get into a car, the seat creates an impression of comfort and quality,” said Svenja Froehlich, a durability engineer at Ford’s European headquarters in Cologne, Germany.
“Previously, we used pneumatic cylinders that simply moved up and down. With the ‘Robutt’, we are now able to replicate very accurately how people really behave.”
Ford’s Robutt is an interesting addition to the Industrial Internet of Things – but in fact, it’s not the first time a robotic bottom has been used to test robustness in manufacturing.
Smartphone makers including Samsung, for example, have been known to test device durability with mechanical behinds that sit on top of the screens, to mimic that horrible moment when the user sits down with their phone in their back pocket.