Friday, February 13, 2009

Drive my car

I have always been a fan of Toyota Motor Corporation. So much so, in fact, that I am the proud owner of a Toyota Corolla, an outstanding motor vehicle that has presented me with very few problems since I purchased it nine years ago. My enthusiasm for the company's products, however, diminished considerably after a recent road trip to Canada.

After disembarking from a rather hairy ride on a twin prop Bombardier Dash 8, my trusty traveling companion and intrepid sales rep Judy Leger and I fought our way through a snowstorm to the counter of Budget Rent A Car System. There, to our dismay, we were offered two choices: a Chrysler PT Cruiser or a Toyota Yaris. I chose the Yaris.

It was not until the next day that we began to realize the limitations of this particular carriage. Having the car parked outside during a blizzard did not help matters. There was no means of turning the engine on remotely and, since the car was buried under an inch of ice and six inches of snow, a creative method of gaining access was required. This involved carrying copious amounts of hot water from my room in the Hilton Montreal Airport Hotel through the snowstorm and pouring it onto the Yaris's door lock.

After half an hour, I started the engine and waited another half an hour for the car to warm up. Finally, it was time to leave. Not being a fan of my particular type of driving, Judy took the wheel of the Yaris and we sledded off to our first appointment.

Being an automatic transmission, the particular Yaris we drove had five different lever positions for first gear, second gear, one marked "3-D", and those for reverse and parking. Driving along the highway, Judy put the car into the 3-D position and throttled the machine to 100 km/hr. After driving for ten minutes, we noticed that the tachometer was registering nearly 4000 rpm. It was all rather strange. Did the car have another overdrive gear? I read the manual. It did not.

Surely, I mused, the Toyota Motor Corporation could not have designed a car in such a manner. Perhaps, I dared to suggest, the "3-D" slot the gearstick was in should be moved over to the right hand position. I did not for a moment think that my traveling companion would take such a suggestion seriously.

But she did and, after moving the gearstick to the right "D" position, the tachometer registered a more reasonable 2500 rpm. I was flabbergasted. Unlike any other automatic car I have ever driven, the third and overdrive gears were located at opposite horizontal positions on the gear change.

In his December 2008 webcast, Robert Tait of the GE Global Research Center spoke of the need for design for manufacturing. Inthat webcast, which you can view at, Tait spoke of the need for machine-vision system integrators to understand the type of product being manufactured and how inspection tasks can improve the quality control process. To ensure that automobile parts can be easily inspected, he described CAD models that can help system developers visualize manufacturing systems.

Even better, by consulting with manufacturers before such products are designed, machine-vision system developers might suggest ways of ensuring that these parts can be more easily inspected, using tools such as barcodes, fluorescent dyes, and pre-engineered part location fiducials.

While CAD models can help designers of automotive products as well as machine-vision developers, they can also be used to simulate the experience of potential customers of the end-user product. In the case of the Yaris, for example, a properly engineered CAD model would have allowed a virtual customer to sit behind the wheel and drive a CAD model of the car as if he or she were present.

In such a way, automotive manufacturers could automatically test a virtual design before any vehicle design was completed or any car manufactured. Manufacturers such as Toyota Motor Corporation could thus attain immediate user feedback and design-out any confusing modes of operation that their customers might experience.

No comments: