Ford recently hired two new test drivers to try out new and upcoming vehicles in the most extreme weather possible. Unlike most test drivers, the two recruits don’t get tired or feel unwell. Best of all, the drivers can withstand the various weather conditions and even the low oxygen levels of high-altitude driving tests.
But how are they able to do it? Well, that’s because they’re robots.
The robots are called Shelby and Miles. And before you ask, yes, their names are related to Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles that helped develop the Le Mans-winning GT40, and more recently, the Ford v Ferrari movie. They’re used by Ford at their Weather Factory in Cologne, Germany. The facility allows engineers to replicate the harshest conditions found in the Sahara Desert, Siberia, or even the Alpine peaks to test the vehicle’s limits.
Since the simulated weather conditions are very realistic, human drivers might feel unwell even if the vehicle is still capable. One example is high-altitude testing. Human test drivers are required to have oxygen bottles, medical equipment, and paramedics on standby. Still, a driver feeling unwell for altitude sickness might not be able to perform the tests properly. That’s where Shelby and Miles come in.
According to Ford, the new robots can operate at extreme temperatures ranging from -40°C to +80°C. Since they don’t need to breathe, they can also tackle extreme altitude tests without issue. There’s no need to worry about rest breaks either, allowing Ford to speed up the testing process.
The robot works like a human test driver, having arms and legs. When testing begins, the “legs” are extended to operate the pedals. Meanwhile, one arm is positioned to change gears, and the other is used to start and stop the engine.
Don’t expect robot test drivers to take over testing duties at Ford. The automaker says human test drivers will continue to conduct real-world testing in European locations and around the world.