A Robot with Feelings: Ford's Sense of Quality, Touch Perfected by the RUTH Machine
You won't hurt RUTH the robot's feelings if you disagree with her, but it's very difficult to prove your point given her opinions are backed up by mathematical evidence.
Thanks to the Robotized Unit for Tactility and Haptics (RUTH) machine, which arrived in North America earlier this year, Ford knows its 2013 Fusion has an interior that customers want.
Quality can be difficult to express, yet when customers sit in a high-end car, they know by the feel of the trim and the touch of the buttons that the car is special. The sense of touch and the intuitive understanding of quality are innately human characteristics, but how do you measure them? The answer: use a RUTH.
RUTH allows engineers to quantify vehicle characteristics such as softness, roughness, temperature, hardness and comfort. This allows Ford to tailor each vehicle interior to exactly what a customer group wants.
Click here to see RUTH in action and hear engineers and technicians explain how she works.
The RUTH robot is a giant arm with six joints, programmed to poke the trims, turn the knobs, push the buttons and interact with many of the vehicle's interior areas in the same way a person would.
Engineers in North America are finding several different ways to use RUTH. They are the first in the world, for example, to use the robot to measure seat comfort.
Eileen Franko, Ford craftsmanship supervisor, believes RUTH results in greater customer satisfaction.
"Thanks to the data provided by RUTH, we can be sure the customer who buys a car like Fusion will experience the same type of quality they might feel if they were to buy a high-end luxury car," Franko says. "I might be biased, but RUTH isn't. We know the steering wheel and the armrest softness in Fusion are the best in the world."
For years, Ford's quality interiors resulted from worldwide studies where customers tested various parts, documenting their preferences. RUTH won't change that. But now, RUTH is involved from beginning to end to determine the feeling of quality.
Interior samples are premeasured by RUTH. Customer test studies are conducted, and after the results are tallied, RUTH supplies the data to implement the finest option into mass production. In other words, quality is no longer a guessing game.
As a relatively new resident to North America, RUTH, first introduced in Europe, is found only in Ford's product development center. And the robot has already helped engineers improve the quality of many parts of the car.
RUTH illustrates Ford's commitment to putting high-end products within reach of a larger group of customers.
"We are going further for our customers by more accurately and quickly assessing our products' performance," Franko says. "RUTH simulates the motor skills of a real person, allowing us to get precise measurements that explain what the customer wants. Engineers can take the findings and implement them. As a result, when customers sit in an affordable car like Fusion, they'll feel instantly like they're in a high-end ride."
Luke Robinson, Ford metrologist and RUTH technician, says RUTH has increased productivity.
"Before RUTH, many engineers had access only to hand-held measuring tools, and no means to test the interiors in a manner that resembled in-vehicle scenarios," he explains. "An engineer outside of our department might even have pushed a dictionary and a pop can into an armrest to measure its resistance and softness. But now engineers can contact us and we can put RUTH into a vehicle; within a few hours, we can give them tangible data.
"With years of Ford customer research to tell us where to start," Robinson adds, "we can use RUTH to measure exactly what the majority of customers want."