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Watch Ford’s robot test drivers take a car for an on-the-spot spin

Ford Motor Company has deployed two new robots called Shelby and Miles to help the automaker test its cars in extreme environmental conditions.

The robots are based at Ford’s Weather Factory, which opened in Cologne, Germany, in 2018. You can see Shelby (or is it Miles?) in action in the video above, pressing various knobs and pedals to “drive” the car during a test session.

Testing involves subjecting cars to environmental challenges such as strong winds, extreme temperatures, and heavy rain — often in conditions that replicate high altitudes.

Ford came up with the idea of using robotic test drivers because in some environmental conditions its human drivers became too tired to work reliably, or they even became unwell. Using humans for lab-based wind tunnel testing at high altitude necessitated the need for safety measures that included oxygen bottles, medical equipment, and an on-site paramedic, with the driver’s health requiring constant monitoring, according to the automaker.

Shelby and Miles, however, can operate comfortably at temperatures ranging from minus 40 degrees to plus 80 degrees Celsius, with altitude settings presenting few concerns. Even better, they can work without skipping off for a break.

“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,” said Frank Seelig, who oversees Ford’s wind-tunnel tests. “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 points out that it still conducts real-world testing in various countries, suggesting its human drivers still have jobs at the company.

Although Shelby and Miles — named after car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles, key figures behind the development of the Ford GT40 that won the 24-Hours of Le Mans in 1966 and the main characters in the recent movie Ford v Ferrari  — clearly take the pressure off Ford’s human test drivers, it seems that, according to this older footage at least, the automaker may need another robot to help this poor fella stuck outside the vehicle during testing.

Welcome to Ford’s Weather Factory

Ford robots

Fords robot drivers are the latest example of the auto giant’s ongoing interest in robotic technology. In recent years, for example, its factory workers have started using robotic exoskeletons to reduce injury and fatigue on the assembly line, while it’s also taken an interest in a bipedal delivery robot to complement proposed delivery services using its autonomous cars.

More recently it gave Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot a test run, using it to help map one of its plants in Dearborn, Michigan, and we mustn’t forget “robutt,” the robot based on the dimensions of “an average large man” that Ford uses to test the durability of its car seats.

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Trevor Mogg
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