DEARBORN, Mich., Sept. 16, 2003 – Ford Motor Company Ergonomic engineers Fred Lupton and Eero Laansoo may be young men, but they understand first-hand what it’s like to be pregnant or elderly.
By using a specially designed 30-pound pregnancy simulator suit called The Empathy Belly, Lupton, 36, and Laansoo, 29, are able to experience firsthand the realistic physical and emotional effects of pregnancy.
“After wearing the Empathy Belly for just one hour, I can honestly say I have a true appreciation and education for what pregnant women go through,” said Laansoo. “The suit was a big help to us in learning the physical and emotional effects it provides and how we as engineers can apply those issues when designing vehicles.”
The Empathy Belly is a multi-component, weighted garment that allows Ford engineers to gain a realistic understanding of the demands imposed by being pregnant. It contains a rib belt that constricts lungs, two seven-pound lead weights that are inserted into the belly and represent fetal limbs, a six-pound pouch that attaches on the underside of the belly and simulates the fetal head resting and applying pressure on the bladder. A suspended weight inside the belly mimics mild fetal kicking and the pregnant belly area houses approximately 14-ounces of water. The Empathy Belly does not have any mechanical, electrical or electronic components.
“As a hands-on tool, the Empathy Belly really helped us to understand some of the issues pregnant women face such as awkwardness in body movements, postural changes, shifts in center of gravity and limitations in reach,” explained Lupton.
In 1999, Ford developed the Third-Age Suit as a research tool to assist ergonomic engineers in developing vehicles for customers as much as 30 years older than they are. The suit, which appears to be a cross between a bee-catcher's protective gear and a high-tech astronaut suit, is made up of materials that add bulk and restrict 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 cataracts, the Third Age Suit gives engineers and designers a feel for the needs of an older generation as they design new vehicles.
The suit, first employed in the development of the Ford Focus, is used regularly to keep pace with the demands of aging baby boomers over the coming decades. Demographics show that the number of people in the United States between 55 and 74 will almost double by 2030 – rising from 40 million to about 74 million.
Research Benefits Freestar and Monterey Minivans
Research gathered from using The Empathy Belly and Third Age Suit was helpful in the early design process of the all-new 2004 Mercury Monterey and Ford Freestar minivans. Thanks to the suits, The Monterey and Freestar minivans have many features that make it easy for everyone to use.
The Freestar and Monterey’s most impressive ergonomic feature is its innovative standard rear seating system. “Freestar and Monterey’s second and third-row seats make owners’ lives so much easier,” said Lupton. The new standard folding third-row seat can be neatly stored in the vehicle’s floor when not in use, freeing space and creating a completely flat load floor. The seat is counterbalanced for nearly effortless function, with pop-up head restraints that do not need to be removed when storing the seat. The need to reconfigure the interior invariably arises far from home, so not having to struggle to remove a heavy, bulky seat is a major convenience.”
An additional advantage of the third-row seat is increased cargo room afforded by the “well” the seat folds into. Large enough for a golf bag or several large potted plants, the spot is also perfect for smaller items that might otherwise slide around in the vehicle during transport.
The adjustable second-row bench seat tips and slides horizontally along its rails when the lever is pulled. Dual captain’s chairs, standard on Monterey, Freestar SEL and Limited models, have a fold-and-tumble feature that can be operated with one hand. The second-row seats can also be removed from the vehicle for maximum cargo space.
Customizable Driving Position
Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey have been designed to fit a range of drivers from a petite 5th-percentile woman to a towering 95th-percentile man. Available power-adjustable pedals allow further customization of the driving position for shorter and taller drivers alike. With the touch of a button, the brake and accelerator pedals can be adjusted up to three inches fore and aft. A standard adjustable steering column and available height-adjustable power driver’s seat also help drivers of all sizes be more comfortable behind the wheel.
Power-Operated Doors and Liftgate
“Without a doubt our available power doors improve ergonomics tremendously,” says Laansoo. Later in the 2004 model year, a power-operated liftgate will be offered on both minivans. At launch, power-sliding doors are available. Rugged, pull-through handles allow the user to grasp the handle from above or below to operate both doors and liftgate. “This handle design is very important for people with arthritis,” said Laansoo, “but everyone benefits from doors that are so easy to open and close.”