Design Engineering

Toyota-designed robot takes the wheel in rough-road durability tests


General Automotive Robot Toyota

With the robot behind the wheel, the test cycles are now only limited by fuel capacity.

Toyota avalon robot driving

Toyota Engineers and Technicians prepare an Avalon prototype for autonomous durability testing in Michigan.

Toyota’s vehicle development process includes a lot of hands-on engineering especially when it comes to fine-tuning ride handling, comfort, and other sensory aspects.

However, the automaker is using automated vehicle tech instead of human engineering to tests its new vehicles in rough-road conditions.
Toyota’s North American vehicles are rough-road durability tested on a course in Michigan that the company specifically designed with potholes, dips and other defects precisely placed along the track surface. Toyota designed the test to include all conditions that a vehicle could encounter in its lifetime in a single test drive.

A test like this could be very uncomfortable for engineers and technicians performing the test drive, so the automaker looked for a better solution.

Because having a human behind the wheel wasn’t critical to this specific test, Toyota engineers opted for an automated system. And when it came to testing on prototypes of the all-new Avalon, Toyota invited a robot to take the wheel.

The automated system was designed for testing purposes using a combination of computers, actuators, levers, other mechanicals, and a lot of engineering know-how. The system itself doesn’t use any of Avalon’s many advanced driver assistance or navigation features, advanced LIDAR, sensors, and cameras.

“When our vehicle performance development (VPD) team began looking at testing for the 2019 Avalon, they developed a system that adapted and improved existing technology to allow the car to automatedly navigate around the course,” said Avalon chief engineer Randy Stephens. “This not only saved the engineers and technicians from having to endure the grueling ride, it also provided a more accurate test cycle.”

“Once we had the physical components in place, we started working on the GPS-guided path control,” explained Don Federico, group manager for Toyota’s VPD team. “Traditional in-car global positioning systems are accurate to about four-meters.  Our system and control accuracy needed to be far greater to keep the test car on the narrow track at high speeds and to get accurate test results, especially while getting bounced around by potholes.”

The VPD team developed path control software allowing the Toyota R&D robot to drive a set course with an accuracy of within two-centimeters. The entire test, which stretches thousands of kilometers, was conducted and monitored by engineers and technicians in a nearby control room without the need for humans to physically occupy the vehicle through harsh testing conditions.

With the robot behind the wheel, the test cycles are now only limited by fuel capacity.


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