Ford Europe has taken automation a step further by introducing robotic test drivers. No, this is not an attempt to save on a payment plan, but rather a way to test cars in extreme environmental conditions without endangering the health of the driver.
Since the days when motor cars became more practical machines than toys for hobbyists and wealthy people, testing them has evolved from starting the engine and hoping that it doesn’t. ignite into an exact science complete with on-board computer and diagnostic systems.
However, an automobile inspection is not just about making sure that the mechanics are up to specifications. It also involves ensuring that the vehicle can operate in high temperature, cold, windy and high altitude conditions. This ensures that a well-built car can operate in the tropics, deserts, arctic and over mountain passes with little risk of breakdown if properly maintained and used.
The point is that those tests are like a human test like a machine. When a car is placed inside an environmental wind tunnel and subjected to high temperatures, freezing cold and high altitude pressure, so is the driver.
This can be a serious problem as drivers can become tired or even sick after a while. This means that testing can only happen during times when the driver is healthy and resting. Even then, the person must be equipped with biosensors, oxygen tanks, and medical equipment, and medical personnel must be on hand in the event of an incident.
All that means time and cost, so Ford brought two robots into its Weather Factory test facility in Cologne, Germany. Called Shelby and Miles, they don’t look like human drivers, but they can operate the controls and repeat what they do over and over again. They can operate in temperatures from -40°C to 80°C (-40°F to 176°F), at high mountain altitudes, and can be programmed to perform different driving styles.
In a stationary test stand, the robot’s feet can reach the gas, brake and clutch pedals, while one arm can shift the gear lever and the other can start and stop the engine.
Frank Seelig, Supervisor, Wind Tunnel Test, Ford Europe said: “These two new drivers are a great addition to the team, as they are able to perform challenging endurance tests in high altitude and hot temperature”. “Once the robot was in the driver’s seat, we could run the tests through the night without worrying that the driver would need a sandwich or a bathroom break.”
New robot test drivers are discussed in the video below.
Meet Ford’s new robot test drivers