Ford will test self-driving cars on public roads in California next year

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

Ford announced Tuesday that it has officially enrolled in the California Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program, meaning it will be allowed to start testing self-driving Fusion Hybrids on open roads in California. 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 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.

Ford is aiming to begin its autonomous driving tests on California’s public roads in the second half of next year, but it must first plan its driving routes, including highways and city streets, then map them out in 3D, according to The Washington Post. This brings Ford into an ever-growing cadre of companies — not just carmakers — legally allowed to operate autonomous vehicles in the state, including Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Google, Tesla Motors, Bosch, Nissan, BMW and Honda, just to name a few.

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. By testing its piloted cars on public roads, based out of its Palo Alto research center, Ford hopes to strengthen the now-decade old autonomous vehicle development program.

Vehicle autonomy is a key component in the Ford Smart Mobility plan, which aims to take the company to the next level in connectivity, mobility and data and analytics. In November, executive chairman Bill Ford said that the automotive industry was on the “threshold of a series of revolutions.” In order to survive those waves of upheaval, Ford has turned its energy to diversifying its business.

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. The carmaker, now rebranded as a “mobility company,” will try to transition its business plan from one that sells metal boxes with wheels — which likely sit idle for a majority of the day — to one that monetizes transportation as a service.

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. 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.

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