Ford replaces human drivers with robots for extreme new-car testing

Nice to meet you, Shelby

FORD has confirmed that it is now using robot test drivers in place of humans to conduct experiments on vehicles in extreme climatic conditions.

Two robots have been created for use in Ford’s ‘Weather Factory’ facility in Cologne, Germany, to take over car testing in simulated weather conditions.

In one location, Ford’s technicians can simulate the hottest and coldest temperatures on the planet, along with extreme high-altitude testing.

Human drivers clearly have limitations and, according to Ford, high-altitude testing in particular requires many safety protocols, such as having oxygen bottles, medical equipment and a paramedic on site so that the driver health can be constantly monitored.

The robots, however, have been designed to cope with temperatures ranging from -40 to +80 degrees Celsius, along with high altitude – and they never need a break for the toilet or sleep.

In a video released by Ford, the robot’s ‘legs’ are seen to press the brake and throttle pedal when needed, while specially designed arms – and even fingers – can press the engine-start button and use the gear selector.

There is no steering required for these tests, as the cars are held on a rolling road in a wind tunnel, but different driving styles can be programmed into the operation of the robots.

Frank Seelig, supervisor of wind tunnel testing at Ford of Europe said: “These two new drivers are fantastic additions to the team, as they can take on the challenging endurance tests at high altitudes and in hot temperatures.

“Once the robot is in the driver’s seat, we can run tests through the night without ever having to worry that the driver will need a sandwich or a bathroom break.”

Ford’s actual humans working in the facility have nicknamed the robots Shelby and Miles after Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, the key people behind the creation and development of the original Ford GT40, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans every year from 1966 to 1969, as featured in 2019’s Le Mans ’66 (aka Ford vs Ferrari) movie.

Despite the creation of the robots, and its Weather Factory, Ford confirms that it still carries out thousands of miles in real-world circumstances, in extremes of temperature and altitude, to validate the data obtained under simulated conditions – with humans at the wheel.