Ford have been aggressively adding assistive driving technology to their vehicles over the last few years, but have never talked about a driverless car. Today Ford have revealed they are working on a driverless cars. They call it the Automated Fusion Hybrid Research Vehicle and are working in conjunction with the University of Michigan. While the CEO of Toyota recently announced he expects driverless cars to be on the road by 2020, Ford are a little more conservative, giving a 2025 estimate for this research to hit the road.
The decision to go with a Fusion Hybrid is an interesting one, especially considering where fully electric vehicles will be in ten years time. You would expect the technology to adapt to any powertrain, but electric vehicles do have very different properties like weight, handling, acceleration and more.
The Ford research vehicle ditches the ugly LiDAR system on other cars and uses 4x cylindrical LiDAR detectors on its roof and look a little like Rudolf’s antlers. The 360-degree cameras and sensors around the vehicle, are stitched together to create a virtual world of the surrounds. Ford says this 3D map of the surrounding is as detailed as some video games. They weren’t kidding, the image below is a grab from their video released with today’s announcement. It demonstrates how the data from the car is being interpreted and translated into a world full of potential collisions so the car can avoid them.
“The Ford Fusion Hybrid automated vehicle represents a vital step toward our vision for the future of mobility,” said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford. “We see a future of connected cars that communicate with each other and the world around them to make driving safer, ease traffic congestion and sustain the environment. By doing this, Ford is set to have an even greater impact in our next 100 years than we did in our first 100.”
Ford vehicles already have technology that enables them to park themselves, understand a driver’s voice commands (SYNC), lane guidance, adaptive cruise control, emergency braking and more. At Computex this year, I raised this development path with Ford and asked why not skip over these incremental steps and aim for the end goal of a driverless car. They indicated at the time that they believed drivers still wanted to drive and their goal was to assist that driving experience with technology. That response is likely a result of them not being ready to discuss today’s announcement at the time. It was interesting that Ford was allowing Google to take credit for innovating in this area.
“In the future, automated driving may well help us improve driver safety and manage issues such as traffic congestion and global gridlock, yet there are still many questions that need to be answered and explored to make it a long-term reality,” said Raj Nair, group vice president, Ford global product development. “With the automated Ford Fusion Hybrid research project, our goal is to test the limits of full automation and determine the appropriate levels for near- and mid-term deployment.”
The automated Fusion Hybrid will serve as the research platform to develop potential solutions for these longer-term societal, legislative and technological issues raised by a future of fully automated vehicles. As we know, cars that drive themselves freak some people out, but only those who haven’t come to the realisation that computers can operate a vehicle better than humans. A combination of vehicle sensors can detect changes in the environment around the vehicle multiple times per second, whereas driver reactions are slow in relative terms and that’s when the driver isn’t distracted.
The sensors can track anything dense enough to redirect light – whether stationary objects, or moving objects such as vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. The sensors are so sensitive they can sense the difference between a paper bag and a small animal at nearly a football field away.