Faraday Future’s car failed to park itself on stage at its big debut at CES last week. Oddly, at the same event, the much-anticipated FF 91 successfully parked itself outside the event building. As it turns out, the car inside was up to something different, as explained by the car’s engineers.
Those engineers said the car inside was running on its own, specific programming, different from the normal-functioning self-driving prototype outside—though the two shared software and hardware. FF does have a solid and functioning self driving, self-parking system, but that’s not what was used during the big indoor demo, and it all kind of served to undermine the car’s abilities.
See, the big news from the debut of the FF 91 was supposed to be that the company had built a working set of prototypes it says are ready for production (once it, you know, secures a means for production such as a working factory), but much of the media focused on the endless string of buzzwords about the car and how it embarrassingly failed to park itself on stage.
Faraday Future’s Senior Vice President of Research and Development and main presenter for the night Nick Sampson told the press after the debut that the car simply faced technical challenges of the metal roof of the building itself, saying: “If we look up at the roof of this building there’s a lot of steel structure up there that’d [prohibit] some of the signals.“
However, I was able to speak with three members of Faraday Future’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) team the day after at a second, more private press event ostensibly for speedy ride alongs and got a clearer explanation. I spoke with Hong Bae, who heads ADAS at Faraday Future, as well as Self-Driving Technical Specialist Oliver Jeromin and Navigation and Controls Lead Paul Theodosis.
I had asked Bae to explain Faraday Future’s approach towards safety for a self-driving car that encounters some level of systems failure. He noted that the FF 91 has a number of built-in redundancies: redundant power systems, redundant ECUs, redundant sensors. Jeromin chimed in to say we saw some of these redundancies the night before.
“In fact, the live demo that we showed had redundant systems with every functionality. Everything had a redundancy to ensure that it was safe,” he said.
To be clear, the FF 91's failure on stage was brief: at first it did not drive when the company’s key backer Jia Yueting pressed a “driverless valet” button on the door, but a few minutes later,the car did roll forward on its own after a technician got into the car and poked around in the driver’s seat for a short period of time.
Now, I asked Jeromin if the technician had triggered one of these redundancies to allow it to finish its self-parking maneuver. He denied it, saying “What happened on stage was actually kind of a very specific adaptation.” I asked if the failure was, as Nick Sampson had stated, because of steel beams in the building’s roof messing with the car’s sensor.
Jeromin steered me away from that point, and in doing so clarified what was going on in the first place.
“I think what’s more important is that the part on the stage was more of a very specific adaptation just for the presentation,” he said. “This was product version code, working to demonstrate what it can do.”
Bae agreed, and a PR person listening in chimed in to say that what was on stage was indeed using “real production technology,” just that it “needed to be calibrated, and we needed to recalibrate it.”
I wondered aloud if what they were describing was like, the car was programmed just to roll the twenty feet or so forward and then come to a stop in its pre-programmed “parking spot,” but all I got was a very long and silent grin from one of the engineers at the table.
Just before I had sat down for this round table discussion, I had actually got a ride in the beta prototype Faraday Future used for the successful outside demonstration, and the car worked perfectly well. I watched as its LIDAR system sprouting from its hood scanned the world around it, showing everything from an engineer blocking a potential parking spot to the palm trees across the street. That car, pictured below, and that demonstration, was legit.
So it’s unfortunate that Faraday Future does have working self-parking tech, but that’s not what the world saw struggle on stage.