Ford to triple autonomous testing fleet this year

| Transport

Ford autonomous research vehicles at MCity testing grounds

Twenty new Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous test vehicles will be added to the existing fleet of development cars currently undergoing trials.

With the ambition of making its fleet of fully autonomous test vehicles the largest in the industry, Ford is planning to triple the number of Ford Fusion Hybrids currently on test by the end of this year. By doing so, the company expects to boost its development activities in the field of driverless cars. They’ll be operated in California, Arizona and Michigan.

A key location in the testing of Ford’s autonomous fleet is the 32-acre MCity proving grounds that were specially built for the purpose at the University of Michigan. Testing will continue there as well as taking to public roads in other regions of the country as Ford brings it’s Smart Mobility strategy to the next phase.

According to Ford’s CTO and VP of Global Product Development, Raj Nair, the company is committed to making driverless cars available for millions of people. “With more autonomous vehicles on the road, we are accelerating the development of software algorithms that serve to make our vehicles even smarter,” he said.

Sensor technology breakthrough

The twenty additional cars being added to the Ford driverless fleet will be third-generation models which take advantage of the latest developments in sensor technology, specifically the Velodyn LiDAR solid state hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto system. These sensors have an extended range of up to 200 metres and can therefore handle the kinds of territories being foreseen for the test vehicles more easily. Shaped like a hockey puck, the compact sensors have an easily concealable design and the extended range means that fewer of them need to be used.

Additionally, the new generation vehicles will be equipped with redundant wiring systems as back up to ensure the reliable operation of steering and braking systems

Similar to Radar technology, LiDAR is ideal for measuring speed and range. It emits short pulses of laser light to precisely scan the surrounding environment millions of times per second and determine the distance to objects and their speed, allowing the vehicle to create a real-time, high-definition 3D image of whatever’s around it in real time.

However, LiDAR isn’t the only sensor technology used on the Ford autonomous fleet. The cars also use cameras, radar and ultrasonic devices, some of which are also used on production vehicles for the latest advanced driver assist systems (ADAS).

Commenting on the latest generation of Ford autonomous vehicles, the company’s technical lead for driverless cars, Jim McBride said, ”Adding the latest generation of computers and sensors, including the smaller and more affordable Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto sensors helps bring Ford ever closer to having a fully autonomous vehicle ready for production.”

Three generations of autonomy

The first generation of autonomous cars delivered by Ford used the F-250 platform and was used in the DARPA challenges of 2005 and 2007. This generation enabled Ford to assess the technical feasibility of autonomy as well as to develop a route map towards achieving it.

In 2013, the company switched to its second generation of autonomous vehicles which were based on the Fusion Hybrid saloon car. The switch was made from the F-250 because the Fusion already had the most advanced electrical system as well as the latest generation of sensors and on-board computers.

The third generation has now been announced for delivery in 2016 and will be used to demonstrate that Ford is able to achieve the SAE International Level 4 definition of vehicle autonomy out of the 6 available levels from Level 0 (No automation) to Level 5 (Full automation).

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