One of the cool things about being an engineer is that in addition to designing innovative new features, you get to develop novel ways to test those features. The 2009 Ford F-150 and 2010 Taurus both feature a new airbag deployment system that incorporates sensors to measure the pressure of a side impact in order manage the inflation rate of the bags. The pressure-based system provides more precise data than typical accelerometers and allows the system to better resist false positives that come from incidents like rolling shopping carts in parking lots and flying basketballs.
In order to calibrate the system, Ford's engineers devised a number of simulations to evaluate these different types of impacts and how they register to system sensors. In addition to the usual slate of slamming cars and crash sleds into each other, the engineers came up with other tests like a shopping cart loaded with 110-pounds of ballast that was rammed by a robot into the car. Since the sensors are located on the bottom of the car, a steel "cat'o'nine tails" whip was also used on the underside to simulate what might happen on a gravel road. Water cannons, pumpkins and basketballs also played a part in the development. Sounds like fun to us. Check out Ford's press release after the jump and a high-res image gallery of the new testing procedures below.