It sounds like an early April Fools Day joke press release but Ford has announced it has, seriously, developed ‘continuous control damping with pothole mitigation technology’ and it will soon be available first in the US.
This adjusts the suspension if it detects that a wheel has dropped into a pothole, helping protect the suspension from damage. Already available, the tyre pressure monitoring system alerts drivers to punctures while electronic stability control can help maintain control of the vehicle when avoiding obstacles.
Ford will first offer the computer-controlled shock absorber system, which, it claims, “significantly reduces that unpleasant feeling one gets when driving down a pothole-riddled road” on its new 2017 Fusion V6 Sport, on sale in the US this summer. Fusion is the North American version of the Mondeo sold in other markets. It is the first Ford car equipped with a computer-controlled shock absorber system – or continuously controlled damping – as standard.
Similar, but less sophisticated, computer-controlled, electronically adjustable shock absorbers, which responded to road conditions, were offered in the 1980s on some Japanese models, including Ford-badged variants of Mazda models sold in Asia-Pacific markets.
According to AAA, pothole damage cost US drivers approximately US$3bn a year and drivers report paying US$300 to repair pothole-related vehicle damage. This advanced technology helps to protect your car and your wallet.
“Potholes and other rough road surfaces can be a pricey problem for motorists around the world,” the automaker said, noting that, in the UK alone, the RAC responded to more than 25,000 pothole-related breakdowns in the UK – a near 25% increase compared with 2014. Potholes can cause tyre, wheel and suspension damage costing up to GBP300 a time in repairs.
“The poor condition, and lack of maintenance, of European roads is said to contribute to at least one third of all accidents every year,” the automaker said, citing European Commission data.
“The Fusion V6 Sport substantially reduces the harsh impact potholes often deliver,” according to Ford continuously controlled damping engineering expert Jason Michener. “Our new pothole mitigation technology works by actually detecting potholes and ‘catching’ the car’s wheel before it has a chance to drop all the way into the pothole.”
The Fusion is the first midsize sedan in its class in the US to feature this technology – key rivals are the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
Onboard computers analyse multiple signals collected from 12 high-resolution sensors – adjusting the dampers every two milliseconds. When the edge of a pothole is detected, the car’s computer adjusts the dampers to their stiffest settings so the wheel doesn’t fall as far into the pothole. Because the tyre and wheel don’t drop as far, they don’t strike the opposite side of the pothole as harshly. The rear suspension can respond even faster, with a signal from the front wheel providing a pre-warning to the rear wheel well before it reaches the pothole.
“We tested and tuned this system by driving over countless potholes – [including the] square-edged potholes of our Romeo proving grounds to finesse the software,” said Michener. “It was long hours of not very pleasant work, but the results are well worth it.”
To test the technology for Europe, Ford has built 1.2 miles of “gruelling” test track which replicates some of the worst potholes and road hazards from around the world. Designed to concentrate the punishment experienced by vehicles, it helps engineers create more robust chassis systems and develop new innovations to ensure vehicles can better withstand the world’s challenging roads.
The road is part of 50 miles of test tracks at the automaker’s test facility in Lommel, Belgium. It incorporates potholes of the type found in Europe and the US and simulates more than 100 hazards from 25 countries. In the past three years alone, engineers’ search for road hazards has taken them to the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and Switzerland, as well as Asia, Australia, North America, and South America.
“From a rutted traffic junction in China to a bumpy German side street, this road is a rogues’ gallery of the most bruising surfaces that our customers might encounter,” said durability technical specialist Eric-Jan Scharlee. “By incorporating these real-world hazards into our test facilities we can develop vehicles equipped to deal with these challenging conditions.”
Engineers drive through the potholes and over surfaces as diverse as granite blocks from Belgium and cobbles from Paris, at speeds of almost 50mph (80km/h). Sensors, similar to those used by seismologists studying earthquakes, record the loads and strain on the suspension system.
All Ford vehicles for Europe are tested at Lommel, where engineers and test drivers cover more than 3.7m miles every year. The latest Transit was driven over the course more than 5,000 times as part of a testing regime designed to simulate 10 years of driver use in just six months. Test facilities also include a high-speed circuit, salt- and mud-baths and corrosion testing in high-humidity chambers. Prototype vehicles also are driven worldwide in temperatures ranging from -40 deg C to 40 deg C.
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