Ford Europe has taken autonomous systems a step further by introducing a test driver robotic. It is an attempt to test cars under extreme environmental conditions without risking the health of human drivers.
Since the car became a practical machine rather than a hobby, testing has evolved from simply starting the engine to an exact science complete with diagnostic systems and integrated computers. Car testing is more than just making sure that the mechanics are up to specifications.
Testing also involves ensuring that the vehicle can operate under extreme heat, cold, wind, and altitude. It also ensures that a well-manufactured car can operate in tropical, desert, polar, and mountain passes with less chance of failure if properly cared for and used.
The problem is that such testing is as much a human test as it is a mechanical one. The driver is the driver when a car is placed in a wind tunnel environment and is subjected to high heat, freezing cold, and high altitude pressure.
This can be a serious problem as the driver can become tired or even sick after a while. This means that the test can only be carried out at times when the driver is healthy and well-rested. However, the person must be equipped with a biosensor, oxygen bottle, and medical equipment. Some paramedics must be on guard in case of an accident.
All of this means more time and money. Reporting from New Atlas (August 13), Ford has brought two robots to the Weather Factory testing facility in Cologne, Germany. Called Shelby and Miles, these robots don’t look like human drivers, but they are capable of operating controls and imitating what they do time and time again.
The robot can operate in temperatures from -40 °C to 80 °C and can be programmed to perform different driving styles. The robot’s feet can reach the gas, brake, and clutch pedals in a static test. Meanwhile, one arm can shift the gear lever, and the other can start and stop the engine.