Ford recruits new robot drivers to test cars in extreme conditions

Ford has recruited two robot test drivers, dubbed by the team as Shelby and Miles, to test the brand’s new models in the most extreme environmental conditions without risking the health of a human driver.

Ford has shared test-drive footage of its Mustang Mach-E that comes from Ford’s state-of-the-art Weather Factory in Germany and shows the new robots performing driving test simulations under extreme heat and high altitude, many of which even the most experienced human test pilots cannot easily manage.

It has one arm positioned to change gear and the other used to start and stop the engine.
It has one arm positioned to change gear and the other used to start and stop the engine. Credit: Ford

For example, the brand has explained, wind tunnel testing (particularly at high altitudes) requires numerous safety protocols, such as having oxygen bottles, medical equipment, and a paramedic on-site, while driver health is constantly monitored.

Faced with this situation and to avoid risks to human drivers, Ford has decided to ‘sign’ these two robots to help take the strain, especially on altitude tests where a key requirement can be that the test is replicated perfectly multiple times. Each robot test driver is capable of operating in temperatures ranging from -40°C to +80°C, at alpine altitudes. In addition, the robots can be configured and programmed for different driving styles.

The robot test driver’s legs extend to the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals.
The robot test driver’s legs extend to the accelerator, brake, and clutch pedals. Credit: Ford

In a static test stand, the robot’s legs extend to the accelerator, brake, and clutch pedals, with one arm positioned to change gear, and the other used to start and stop the engine.

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,” says Frank Seelig, Supervisor, Wind Tunnel Testing, Ford of Europe. “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.”

Nonetheless, Ford continues to conduct real-world testing in Europe and across the world, including the Grossglockner Mountain in Austria and the snowy Arjeplog region of Sweden.

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