Ford announced on Wednesday that it will debut the second generation self-driving Fusion Hybrid at next month’s CES conference, and the vehicle it’s touting comes equipped with a load of new technology to push the company along toward its goal of selling an autonomous vehicle by 2021.
The company also said it was tripling its autonomous fleet, to about 90 cars, in 2017. The updated model takes everything the company learned in the three year since the company first started testing the Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicle and builds on it, Chris Brewer, chief program engineer of Ford’s Autonomous Vehicle Development, said in a blog post.
Brewer said the new vehicle uses Ford’s current autonomous vehicle platform, but “ups the processing power with new computer hardware.”
“Electrical controls are closer to production-ready, and adjustments to the sensor technology, including placement, allow the car to better see what’s around it,” he said.
The new car will test out two new hockey-puck-sized LiDAR sensors, which generate millions of beams from the car’s front to produce a 360-degree view of the car. The new sensors have a sleeker design, Brewer said, and only require two instead of four, but it still receives as much data.
Three cameras are mounted on two racks located on the roof, which all work to identify objects on the road and read traffic lights, Brewer said. Radar sensors—short- and long-range—provide “another level of vision, helping determine how an object is moving relative to the car,” he said. The new radar sensors are supposedly adept at seeing through rain, fog, and heavy snow—an obvious selling point for rainy, snowy and foggy Metro Detroit.
The car is a firm leap toward the company’s goal of developing a fully-autonomous — defined as an Society of Engineers level-4 — vehicle, which doesn’t require a driver to take the reins of the car. And Brewer feels the Ford virtual driver system — comprised of 3D maps, algorithms for path planning, and high-tech electronic systems — is designed to achieve that.
“Building a car that will not be controlled by a human driver is completely different from designing a conventional vehicle, and this raises a whole new set of questions for our autonomous vehicle engineering team: How do you replicate everything a human driver does behind the wheel in a vehicle that drives itself?” he wrote.
So when might we see this stuff on cars we can buy? The company will debut the car at next month’s CES conference in Las Vegas, and it’ll be on display the following week at the Detroit auto show. And while Ford’s self-driving goals seem quite ambitious—the company’s 2021 goal involves bringing the autonomous vehicles to the ride-sharing market, and the public could buy them by 2025—this seems to be something worth keeping any eye on in 2017.