Ford will be tripling its autonomous testing fleet to accelerate development of its virtual driving software, and in doing so will have the largest autonomous fleet in the industry, with vehicles testing in California, Michigan and Arizona.
The tripling of Ford’s current crop of Fusion Hybrid autonomy testers will bring the company’s total to “around thirty,” and is a key part of the Ford Smart Mobility plan, which is part of the automaker’s “we’re a mobility company now” identity crisis.
The third generation of Ford’s autonomous test fleet will come equipped with the most advanced sensory technology from Velodyne, which are state of the art LiDAR sensors resembling a hockey puck, fittingly branded as the Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK™.
The new sensors have an extended range of 200 meters and, according to Ford, are the first sensors designed specifically to be capable of handling different driving scenarios. The sensors create a 3D map of the area surrounding the vehicle for the computer brain, using short-pulse lasers millions of times per second.
The new puck also allows Ford to cut the amount of sensors on the car from four to two without any compromise, with the smaller size allowing them to fit on vehicle features as small as the door mirrors.
The third generation Fusion Hybrids will also come with a back up plan. The cars feature duplicate wiring, braking lines, and a steering connection all distinguished between the autonomous hardware and the human hardware, just in case a person needs to step in.
Ford will pair the new LiDAR sensors with safety features already available on models like lane assist, cameras, automatic braking, pedestrian detection, and vehicle-to-vehicle communication to teach its cars how to drive themselves.
These pictures from Ford are of the second generation autonomous testers at the Mcity full-scale autonomous testing facility at the University of Michigan.
This announcement sort of comes as a surprise, since we all sort of expected Ford and Google to announce plans for a joint venture at CES that’s all but confirmed. Perhaps this is the last phase in Ford’s private autonomous research as a remnant of earlier plans. Perhaps Ford and Google were faking just to scare GM and Lyft into wedlock.
That’d be really funny. I hope that’s what it is.
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