Photo courtesy of Toyota.

Photo courtesy of Toyota.

Toyota recently used automated vehicle technology with the goal of improving safety and efficiency of rough-road durability testing when evaluating its 2019 Avalon. According to the automaker, using a robot behind the wheel versus a human being resulted in overall greater safety, efficiency and reduced test times.

Typically, rough road durability testing for Toyota’s North American vehicles is conducted on a custom-designed course in Michigan featuring potholes, dips and other road defects. In the past, Toyota engineers and technicians performing car evaluations were repeatedly subjected to a grueling ride as they drove vehicles day-after-day in order to accumulate the necessary mileage.

However, a human being behind the wheel is not critical to the testing. So when planning for durability testing of the 2019 Avalon began, Toyota’s vehicle performance development team (VPD) designed a system that allowed the car to automatedly navigate around the course.

A robot behind the wheel not only saved engineers from a bumpy ride, but it provided a more accurate test cycle, according to the automaker.

Toyota’s VPD team says it was a challenge to connect components that could remotely start, shift, steer and stop the Avalon. However, getting it to navigate accurately was an even greater hurdle.

The team developed a special GPS-guided path control system that would keep the test car on the narrow track at high speeds and to get accurate results—even as potholes continuously jolted it. In addition, they developed path control software that allowed the robot to drive a set course with accuracy of within two-centimeters.

Throughout the entire test—covering some thousands of kilometers—the robot rode solo. No human being was required to physically occupy the Avalon through the harsh testing conditions.

In addition to higher accuracy and repeatable patterns, the robot allowed the Toyota team to test for longer cycles. Prior to installing the automated system, the test would have to be interrupted every 30-40 minutes to change drivers.

Toyota plans to use the robot for testing during all future North American vehicle development cycles.