Ford announced at CES that it is tripling its fleet of fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid test vehicles and will use a new-generation sensor technology as the company further accelerates its autonomous vehicle development plans.
This year, Ford will add 20 Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles, bringing the company's autonomous fleet to about 30 vehicles being tested on roads in California, Arizona and Michigan.
This expansion is a key element of Ford Smart Mobility – the plan to take Ford to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and data and analytics. The newest vehicles are on Ford’s third-generation autonomous vehicle development platform, built using Fusion Hybrid sedans, similar to the second-generation platform.
Ford recently announced its fully autonomous cars will take to the streets of California this year. The company already tests autonomous vehicles at its proving grounds, as well as on public roads in Michigan.
Ford is using Velodyne’s newest LiDAR sensors – named Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto for its hockey puck-like size and shape – on its third-generation autonomous vehicle platform.
Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto sensors boast a longer range of 200 meters, making them the first auto-specific LiDAR sensors capable of handling different driving scenarios. Ultra Puck will accelerate the development and validation of Ford’s virtual driver software, which serves as the decision-making brain that directs vehicle systems.
Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto’s lightweight design makes it optimal for packaging on a vehicle, such as on the sideview mirror. The design means Ford can reduce the amount of LiDAR sensors from four to two on new Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles, and get as much useful data due to the more targeted field of view.
The vehicle's hardware systems, which interact continuously with the virtual driver, are equally important.
Third-generation autonomous Fusion Hybrid sedans will have supplemental features and duplicate wiring for power, steering and brakes. These supplemental features will act as backups, if needed.
The objective of the second-generation vehicle fleet is to test many of the computing and sensor components required to achieve fully autonomous driving capability, as defined by SAE International Level 4, which does not require the driver to intervene and take control of the vehicle.
Separately, Ford said it is exploring ways to link in-home automation devices such as Amazon.com's Echo to the Sync communications systems in its cars to allow consumers to control lights or thermostats inside the home from the car, or start up cars and check fuel levels from inside the house.
In a third technology-related move, Ford said it will collaborate with drone maker DJI to sponsor a contest to develop drone-to-vehicle communications systems using the connectivity systems on a Ford F-150. Contestants would design a system that United Nations workers can use to survey disaster areas, Ford said. The winner would get $100,000.