Yes, the images you see here are in fact of a car shaped balloon, which is helping Ford engineers with refining their timing on crash avoidance systems.
Prototypes are driven into the windbags, allowing researchers to document how late, or early, warning chimes should sound.
The system, to be introduced on the 2010 Ford Taurus, is called - wait for it - Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning with Brake Support technology. Phew, what a mouthful.
It continuously monitors the area in front of the car with a radar, and if it senses a crash, will warn the driver. If the driver doesn't react quick enough, it readies the brakes for a more immediate reaction.
But how do you test that you've set the timing right, without actually crashing the car? A car-shaped balloon of course.
The tarp material is filled with air, and allows a hit without the associated damage. Sure US$10,000 seems alot, but they don't bust on the first impact, meaning they can be used over and over. They're also available in different sizes.
It sure is cheaper than actually repairing the damage on a real car.
"The first few times you drive into the balloon, it's scary," Ford Engineer and test driver Mike Lopez said. "You are deliberately driving straight into a stationary object that looks like a car, and it's against every intuition you've developed since you started driving.""With the balloon, there's no deceleration in the vehicle upon impact – in other words, you're not thrown forward at all. It's a good way to observe what's happening at the instant before the impact," Lopez said. "The shocking experience is when you deliberately distract someone and wait for a warning to go off before they look up and apply the brakes. It is usually surprising how fast the impact comes after being distracted. It's a real eye-opener."
Running after the balloons on windy days has also been reported...