I went from zero to eight months pregnant in under a minute yesterday! Ford gave me the chance to test drive their Escape SUV wearing an Empathy Belly, a pregnancy simulation suit used to assist in ergonomic design. I’m not a mom, but I’m pretty sure real pregnancies aren’t this easy!
The Empathy Belly is a teaching tool for Ford engineers that ensures their cars are a good fit for pregnant women. ‘It gives us a first hand experience of what it’s like to drive for a pregnant customer,’ says Ford ergonomics engineer Natalie Preston. ‘Instead of just listening to what the customers’ needs are, they have an opportunity to feel what those limitations are like.’
A 30-pound ball at the front of the suit mimics the weight of a pregnant stomach, while other distributed weights and a chest strap constrict movement and add pressure points through the chest and back. The physical limitations make it harder to bend forward, get in and out of the vehicle, adjust seat height and reach for controls. Kudos to all you pregnant drivers out there ‘ it’s tough work!
The Empathy Belly allows Ford engineers to feel where items like controls, cup holders and the console should be placed for easy access. ‘There is a growing need for vehicles to accommodate a wide variety of people within one family,’ says Preston.
If you’re planning a family and want to take comfort during pregnancy into consideration, there are things you should look for in a vehicle, such as easy-to-reach grab handles and seat adjusters, a back-up camera so you don’t have to turn your body, and a telescoping steering wheel so you can adjust its height and distance to your needs. That is, unless you have a private driver during your pregnancy, à la Kim Kardashian, of course.
-Chloe Berge, Associate Editor