Ford have put a stake in the ground and calling 2021 out as the year they’ll ship not just their first, but high-volume production of fully-autonomous vehicles. To get people excited, they’re bringing their latest generation Fusion Hybrid (should be fully electric already) autonomous development vehicle to CES and the North American International Auto Show in January.
Ford have done testing in the past, but the latest vehicle ups the processing power with new computer hardware. Electrical controls are closer to production-ready, and adjustments to the sensor technology, including placement, allow the car to better see what’s around it. New LiDAR sensors have been refined and now sit on dedicated stalks that project from the A pillars. This positioning allows the use of just two sensors rather than four, while still getting just as much data.
In a post on Medium by Chris Brewer, Chief Program Engineer at Ford Autonomous Vehicle Development, he speaks about their goal to ship SAE level 4-capable vehicles by 2021. A virtual driver system essentially just means the car has enough brains to drive itself and for those not familiar with autonomous levels, level 4 means the car does need a driver to take control and the car must be able to perform what a human can perform behind the wheel.
Ford’s virtual driver system is made up of:
- Sensors — LiDAR, cameras and radar
- Algorithms for localization and path planning
- Computer vision and machine learning
- Highly detailed 3D maps
- Computational and electronics horsepower to make it all work
This will dramatically impact the future of transportation, firstly making a 5 seater car now a 5 passenger car. It could drive you home after drinking too much, or better yet, drive your elderly parents around well into their 90s and beyond. Imagine one of your kids need to go to soccer practice, but you have to be home with a sick baby, the car could drive them there, and bring them home, all without you. Its entirely possible children born today will not need licences, because by the time they’re old enough to drive (16 years from now or 2033), there won’t be any cars to drive, they’ll all drive themselves.
What’s critical about Fords implementation of autonomy is that they’re shooting for volume sales which you can take as meaning affordable to the average family. While early models will come with a premium price tag, its easy to see competition drive the price down to become a standard checkbox feature like cruise control or ABS.
The post is well worth a read, so head over to Medium and check it out.