Where man does not arrive, technology intervenes, especially when it comes to heavy or risky jobs. The same happens in the Ford Weather Factory in Cologne, a laboratory where the vehicles of the Blue Oval are tested in extreme conditions and where two robots take on the toughest tests conducted in the most grueling circumstances.
The two robot test drivers are called Shelby and Miles, in honor of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, the two developers of the Ford GT40 that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, and are used for some particularly demanding tests, such as those in altitude, replicated several times. Inside the Cologne Factory, particular atmospheric conditions are reproduced such as the extreme heat of the Sahara, the frost of Siberia or the heights of the highest alpine peaks, with the aim of putting the new cars to the test, and the use of two robots allows engineers to test them with fewer limitations.
Wind tunnel tests, especially at high altitudes, require numerous safety protocols for flesh-and-blood testers, such as having oxygen cylinders, medical equipment and a paramedic on site, while drivers’ health is constantly monitored. The robots for their part can operate without repercussions in temperatures ranging from 40 to 80 degrees, and can be set and programmed for different driving styles. The legs extend to the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals, one arm is positioned on the gearbox for gears and the other to start and stop the engine. The tests in the Ford Weather Factory are also accompanied by those in the real world, from the Grossglockner mountain in Austria to the snowy region of Ajeplog in Sweden.
“These two new drivers are fantastic additions to the team – explained Frank Seelig, Ford of Europe’s wind tunnel test supervisor – as they can tackle the demanding endurance tests at high altitudes and very high temperatures. Once the robot is in the driver’s seat, we can run tests overnight, without ever having to worry that the driver will need a sandwich or a bathroom break. “