The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is an independent nonprofit that provides innovative science, technology, and engineering services to government and commercial clients worldwide. SwRI is a leading provider of algorithms and component technologies for automated driving for both commercial and military vehicles.1 In 2015, SwRI developed a patented system, Ranger, to enable precise navigation for automated vehicles.2

Creating an Autonomous Masterpiece

This process started over a year ago when SwRI contacted Dataspeed to use our Drive By-Wire kit to begin the development of making four 2020 Ford F-150 Raptors autonomous. At this point in time, purchasing a Raptor was extremely difficult due to high demand, let alone four of them. We used our close-knit network to procure these vehicles which have the highest F-150 trim with impressive capabilities such as a powerful EcoBoost V-6 and 510 pound-feet of torque. These off-road vehicles are the first F-150s to use Dataspeed’s newest generation By-Wire kit which has a more robust system. Previously, the shift-by-wire actuator was mounted underneath the vehicle. A custom mechanical cable was designed and fabricated allowing our engineers to integrate the actuator inside the vehicle cabin, keeping it away from any rocks or debris the vehicle may be subject to in off-road testing.

SwRI’s goal with Dataspeed was to work with them to create the foundation for an autonomous vehicle while SwRI themselves would add sensors and additional technology afterwards. After the Raptors are completely laden with technology from Dataspeed and SwRI, they will be sent off to Ground Vehicles Systems Center (GVSC) for army use.

“Their prompt communication and enthusiastic vision for the end product made the experience both seamless and exciting.”

Ryan Bizzis, Penske Vehicle Services

It's All in the Details

One of the most significant implementations for this project was the visual aesthetic of the vehicles. They are meant to be used in the army, which means they must look seamless with surrounding tactical vehicles. Dataspeed partnered with Penske Vehicle Services to make this happen. Penske painted the vehicles to match the tan Chemical Agent Resistant Coating (CARC) of classic Humvee vehicles. After Penske was finished with their flawless work, the Dataspeed team powder-coated the remaining metal pieces such as the wheels and custom toolbox mounted in the trunk and sprayed the running boards and bed liner with matching tan LineX.

“Penske Vehicle Services was proud to partner with the team at Dataspeed on a highly complex and time sensitive build. Their prompt communication and enthusiastic vision for the end product made the experience both seamless and exciting. We highly recommend Dataspeed as a partner and look forward to working with them on future business.”

The Drive By-Wire kit was not the only thing that Dataspeed engineers added to the SwRI Raptors. To make this vehicle even more robust, we added Ford performance bead lock wheels, a 12,000-pound winch to the front of the vehicle with a custom electronic remote, and manufactured a custom mounting system to replace the rear bench seats with two Recaro bucket seats. This will allow SwRI to be able to place their equipment securely between the seats. Our engineers also created a custom Emergency Stop (E-Stop) module which includes a switch to remove power from the Dataspeed by-wire system, a button to automatically bring the vehicle to a stop, a button to enable autonomy, and an active status indicator light. Additionally, a high output alternator was integrated to support the winch and all of the sensors that the customer will be adding to the vehicle.

What's Next?

These vehicles have been shipped off to the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas where vehicle work will be resumed. After all their hard work is done, the Raptors will find their home in an army fleet.

1https://www.swri.org/industry/sensing-perception-automotive-software-unmanned-systems-automotive-software-electronics
2https://www.swri.org/press-release/swri%E2%80%99s-ranger-localization-technology-allows-precise-automated-driving


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