Ford’s Autonomous Cars to Hit the Road in California

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ford is officially bringing its self-driving cars to California’s public roads.

The American automaker announced plans today (Dec. 16) to begin testing its fully-autonomous Fusion Hybrid model on public streets in 2016, as part of a state-run Department of Motor Vehicle program. The auto maker on Tuesday announced that it has obtained the permit necessary to let its fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid loose on public roads in California.

Ford will start testing self-driving cars on California’s public roads, signaling the company’s increasing efforts to develop vehicles with cutting edge technology. The Detroit, Michigan-based company joins Alphabet’s Google, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Tesla, Nissan, BMW, Honda and others permitted to test self-driving cars in California—speeding up the race to make such vehicles publicly available. By Google’s estimates, the public is still five years away from taking fully-autonomous spins on the open road, but Swedish automaker Volvo plans to shorten the wait to two years.

The center opened in January this year and brings together more than 100 researchers, engineers and scientists and is one of several R&D centers operated by major automakers in Silicon Valley. Ford also said it will expand its strategic research partnership with Stanford University in 2016 to 13 projects, more than double the number of collaborations this year. The upcoming tests tie into that goal, as well as a Ford initiative—dubbed the “Ford Smart Mobility” plan—to advance the automaker’s role in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience, data, and analytics. Most prototype autonomous cars use the same scanners and match the images with a database of prerecorded images to determine where the car is at any given moment.

Ford says California’s favorable weather will allow it to expand tests. (Snow and heavy rainfall are serious challenges for fully autonomous vehicles.) A new environment provides fresh opportunities for the vehicles to experience new challenges. Google’s self-driving cars are already a familiar sight on the roads in Palo Alto and neighboring Mountain View, where the company has its Google X research center. Ford has already been testing autonomous car technology at Mcity, a fake town built by the University of Michigan to serve as a testbed for driverless car technology. With digital technologies being essential to the future of transportation, auto companies such as Ford need to bring on some experts that haven’t traditionally worked for car companies.

In Mcity, cars can experience a range of road surfaces, including concrete, asphalt, simulated brick and dirt, and drive down two-, three- and four-lane roads. There are also the common sights of city streets, such as street lights, crosswalks, bike lanes, trees, fire hydrants, sidewalks, signs, and traffic control devices. The center’s goal is to make testing as realistic as possible while allowing car makers the chance to test different types of conditions and maneuvers without worrying about other road users. In 2014, it hired Andrew Ng, a highly regarded expert in deep learning, which is a type of artificial intelligence that’s essential for teaching vehicles to see and identify obstacles.

In the past year, the lab has used virtual test drives to study the interaction between an autonomous car and pedestrians, and researched sensors and how they can pull information from street signs, vehicles and even pedestrians. The company is working with Riders for Health to collect GPS data and mapping coordinates to make health care, vaccines and medication delivery to people throughout rural Africa. It will be mapping the roads — 3D maps are widely considered invaluable to guiding autonomous vehicles — and says it will drive autonomously in the second half of 2016.

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