Beauty no longer is solely in the eye of the beholder at Ford of Europe, where its Robotized Unit for Tactility and Haptics is proving successful in removing “subjective” human feedback in the testing of vehicle interiors.

Dubbed RUTH for short, the robot is being employed to determine optimal visual and tactile aspects of cockpits, measuring everything from the feel of switchgear to the temperature of certain touch points, says Mark Spingler, vehicle interior technologies engineer.

Humans have difficulty in communicating what they feel, sense and see to test engineers, he says, making it difficult for Ford to explain to interior suppliers exactly what is needed.

In the past, “if you wanted something soft, you'd tell a supplier you want it soft,” Spingler tells Ward's. “Now we can give them the data curve for a particular softness requirement based on RUTH's calculations.”

In service for the past year, RUTH is the type of robot typically used to package consumer products in manufacturing plants, but it has been retrofitted with indenters that artificially sense friction, force, roughness, softness and temperature.

Measuring friction is “quite complicated,” Spingler says. “It's hard to reproduce the human (touch).”

RUTH uses an optical sensor tailored to the particular application and follows an algorithm “for human-perceived softness,” he says.

The primary objective of RUTH is to standardize the look, sound and feel of Ford interiors.

Engineers at Ford's European Research Center in Aachen, Germany, used the robot in development of the Focus C-car and Fiesta B-car, versions of which will hit U.S. shores this year.

The process has produced results beyond expectations, Spingler says.

“On the (temperature) controls, it helped improve the touch feel, and they are now quite good,” he says. “It helps much more if you have data rather than just opinions.”

Despite RUTH's high-tech abilities, humans still are needed during interior development.

“We have different surfaces and textures and ask people which they prefer, and they provide that information,” Spingler says. “Once they tell us, we correlate what the preference is and enter the data (for RUTH).”

Because RUTH is able to pinpoint precisely Ford's visual and tactile requirements, suppliers have been able to reduce development cycles and costs.

While RUTH currently is used only in Europe, Spingler is hopeful the technology will migrate to other Ford operations.

Eventually, Spingler would like to have a RUTH unit at the end of every Ford assembly line to ensure vehicles are built to specification.

“It's sort of an evolving approach,” he says. “We have lots of ideas.”