BRENTWOOD, England - Ford Motor Co. engineers are adding years to their age, and shedding them again, by slipping into and out of a specially designed suit. The purpose: to help them understand the needs of drivers who could be 30 years or more older than they are.
'When you are young, you think you are designing for everybody. But you really don't understand the range of people and their limitations,' said Vivek Bhise, manager of human factors and ergonomics engineering at Ford's U.K. design center.
The suit, developed with experts at Loughborough University in England, adds bulk and restricts movement in key areas of the body such as the knees, elbows, stomach and back.
Together with gloves that reduce the sense of touch and goggles that simulate the vision-dimming effects of cataracts, the suit gives engineers and designers of new vehicles some feel for the needs of older drivers.
According to experts, human physical capabilities erode at a rate of 5 percent to 10 percent for every 10 years of adult age.
'It's hard for someone young to appreciate why an older person may need to lever themselves out of the driver's seat by pushing on the seat back and the door frame,' said Mike Bradley, ergonomics supervisor at Ford's Dunton Engineering Center in England.
'But try leaping out while you are wearing this suit, and you really understand the challenges.'
The Focus subcompact was the first Ford product to benefit from extensive use of the suit. The car was designed and developed to permit especially easy entry and exit.
According to demographic data, mature and elderly drivers are becoming an increasingly large percentage of the motoring public.
In the United States, for example, the number of people between ages 55 and 74 will almost double by 2030, rising to 74 million from 40 million.