Student Creativity Inspires Ford Researchers

An early concept sketch for the Deep Orange 10 self-driving vehicle prototype.

Ford has been working with students in Clemson University’s automotive program for many years. While the company believes it helps the students prepare for successful careers in the automotive industry, it also keeps the company on the forefront of cutting-edge research.

“We regularly collaborate with universities across the country to foster the growth of students and advance research in a variety of areas, from self-driving algorithm development to the study of new manufacturing materials,” says James Forbes, customer interaction and experience development manager for Ford Motor Co.

For the last 12 years, Ford and Clemson University’s Deep Orange automotive program have worked together to design and build a full functioning concept car. Deep Orange is the university’s two-year master’s program that teaches by doing. Students work in teams with each other, faculty and industry veterans to get a first-hand look at how a car goes from concept to reality.

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For this year’s challenge, Deep Orange students were tasked with designing a functioning self-driving vehicle prototype — one that turned out to be the first ever built at the university. And to make it an even greater challenge, students were tasked with designing and creating an innovative user experience, which led them to consider such aspects like passenger comfort, voice and gesture control and more.

“Throughout the course, my Ford colleagues and I met with students on a regular basis to conduct design reviews and hold brainstorming sessions to generate new ideas,” says Forbes. “Students got an understanding of the entire vehicle design cycle, plus critical experience in how to think through problems when what you’re building with your hands doesn’t quite match up to what you envisioned in a virtual design environment.”

The Clemson students’ concept car was designed as a personal-use vehicle, with seats facing each other and sliding, swing-out doors that open when entering and exiting. An interior projection screen provided navigation and music choices to enhance passengers’ experience. The students even thought of incorporating a passenger monitoring system, which would allow the vehicle to adjust its self-driving if a passenger experienced motion sickness or felt like the vehicle was moving too fast.

To build the self-driving concept, the students used a golf cart as a prototype, testing the capabilities of their parking software, which included properly parallel parking. To make the parking decisions easier, the students decided to let riders give voice and gesture-based commands to the vehicle.

“It’s not only a clever idea, but in the COVID-19 era would also reduce the need for more touch-based interfaces,” says Forbes. “While we look forward to helping the Clemson team reveal the final prototype soon, we are even more excited about the huge impact these graduates are bound to have on the future.”

Clemson University, a public land-grant research university, is located in upstate South Carolina.

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