Bradley Belcher started building his award-winning 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback at age 13 and now supports other Mustang fans through the Millennial Mustang Registry
We’re guessing that when you get into and out of your Ford vehicle, you have a million things running through your head, the least of which is related to the actual process of getting in or out. Your brain goes on autopilot for that.
But when anything changes from that norm – a crick in your neck from sleeping weird, soreness from leg day at the gym or maybe even a paper cut on your finger – that ingress or egress might become slower or require more effort than it did the day before.
Now, imagine being pregnant or experiencing age-related changes in your body, both of which could cause new physical challenges to everyday activities. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it – there’s a team of Human Factor Engineers at Ford who spend their days thinking about your comfort and how to design our vehicles to meet the needs of a broad range of customers. One of their most valuable assets in doing so has been the creation of Empathy Suits, notably the Pregnancy Suit and the Third Age Suit.
Engineers slip on these suits to learn how range of motion and other things are affected by all stages of a driver’s life. This includes getting in and out, adjusting mirrors, accessing the cargo area and even changing lanes. This awareness helps them rethink how they approach ergonomics to encompass those needs.
We call this Engineering Empathy. Our Pregnancy Suit mimics the third trimester, while the Third Age Suit simulates the common effects of aging. “Third Age” comes from a European concept, that life has three stages; think of Third Age as another way of saying “The Golden Years.”
Both suits are similar in that they make it more difficult for the wearer to bend and twist, and mobility is limited. Sensation can also be altered. The Pregnancy Suit weighs approximately 35 pounds, and it changes the wearer’s center of gravity while also restricting movement in the torso and hips, simulating a larger pregnancy-style belly. The Third Age Suit is a bit more encompassing; weighing around 20 pounds, it can include a vest as well as braces on the elbows and knees mimicking stiffer joints; a neck brace to restrict head movement, such as while changing lanes; gloves that affect sensory and mobility, like when using a door handle, seat belt or buttons and switches; earplugs or earmuffs that remove high frequencies; and glasses that give a feeling of impairment such as from cataracts or other vision issues.
These suits add two others already developed by Ford engineers. The Drugged Driving and Drunk Driving suits are used as part of our Ford Driving Skills for Life program in the United States, which demonstrates the dangers of driving while impaired. Students attending the Ford Driving Skills for Life ride-and-drive events wear each suit to understand how being impaired while driving can slow movement, reduce coordination, blur vision and make driving tasks difficult. Ford Driving Skills for Life was established in 2003 by Ford Motor Company Fund, Governors Highway Safety Association and a panel of safety experts, whose goal was teaching newly licensed drivers the skills required for safer driving and the importance of making good decisions behind the wheel.
The various body suits Ford utilizes certainly help wearers gain new perspectives and learn invaluable lessons when it comes to their own driving experience and that of others. And that makes for insightful, empathetic students for life. At any age.