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August 12, 2021

With Travel Restrictions, Ford Shifts To Robot Drivers To Test Future Vehicles

With the pandemic restricting travel globally, Ford is now relying on robots and its state-of-the-art Weather Factory to do some of its vehicle testing.

Located in Cologne, Germany, Ford’s Weather Factory is used to simulate a range of extreme conditions under one roof enabling engineers to test vehicles in a way that’s less impacted by the current travel limitations. It can replicate conditions found in the Sahara Desert, Siberia, or even the tallest Alpine peaks.

However, because the simulated conditions are so realistic, most experienced human test drivers may become tired or unwell, for example when undertaking altitude testing. High-altitude testing involving human test drivers will require numerous safety protocols such as having oxygen bottles, medical equipment, and even a paramedic on-site.

In order to reduce risk to its human drivers, Ford has recruited two robot test drivers, nicknamed by the team as Shelby and Miles, to help take the strain, especially on altitude tests where a key requirement can be that the test is replicated perfectly multiple times.

Shelby and Miles are able to operate at temperatures ranging from -40°C to +80°C as well as at extreme altitudes—and can be set up and programmed for different driving styles.

The robot test driver’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.

Of course, Ford continues to still conduct real-world validation testing not just in Europe, but around the world as well.

For instance, the all-new Ranger and Everest were snapped being tested in Southern Europe. Both are expected to have their global debuts next year with a hybrid version joining the hard-working diesel engine line-up.

The hybrid, destined for Europe will mate a turbocharged 2.3-liter with an electric motor for a combined 362 horsepower and 680 Nm of torque. Meanwhile, the twin-turbo 2.0-liter diesel is said to continue alongside a 3.0-liter diesel V6.

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