Once the stuff of science fiction, autonomous vehicles – or cars that drive themselves – are moving ever closer to a reality. Already, we’re manufacturing and selling vehicles with semi-autonomous features that use software and sensors to steer into parking spaces, adjust speed based on traffic flow, or apply the brakes if an imminent collision is detected. We are continuing to develop technologies that allow for more semi-autonomous capabilities to assist the driver.
Cameras, sonar, radar and lidar1 all have a role in “seeing” the world, and software can interpret what they are seeing in ways similar to a human driver – sometimes even better. These technologies have the potential to continue to make people better drivers. And, one day, in the right environment, they could even replace drivers.
Our goal isn’t to be first-to-market with a fully autonomous vehicle. Our vision is that autonomous vehicles, combined with vehicle connectivity, should be available for everyone and not just a select few.
Think about the potential benefits autonomous driving could have for the elderly, especially in nations where the average ages are increasing. Many older people feel a loss of independence when they can no longer drive. Autonomous vehicles could extend the driving life of the elderly, allowing them to maintain the personal freedom that comes from mobility. Such technology can improve their quality of life and reduce their dependence on caregivers.
Evolving technology is pushing us to look for new opportunities to solve large-scale problems, like that of aging populations. We are looking for ways that mobility can improve the human condition.
We have fully autonomous vehicles in development for the future, with research vehicles already on the road. We’re working with a number of university partners on research and problem solving, including the following:
University of Michigan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and State Farm. We have developed an automated Ford Fusion Hybrid that serves as a research platform for real-world testing and data collection. The vehicle, which can sense objects around it and uses advanced algorithms to help it predict where vehicles and pedestrians might move, will help us identify and address some of the challenges surrounding fully automated driving. As our primary research partner, the University of Michigan is co-developing the sensing (“eyes”) and the decision-making algorithms (“brains”) of the “virtual driver” to help the vehicle understand its physical surroundings and make driving decisions.
Stanford University. We are working together to develop path-planning algorithms that enable a vehicle to automatically maneuver so its sensors can see around obstacles (such as large trucks).
Aachen University (Germany). We are studying when and how human drivers perform certain key driving maneuvers, such as lane changes, so that we can make our vehicle drive in a way that feels intuitive.
As part of our explorations, we’re also considering how autonomous driving may affect the traditional mobility ecosystem and the customer experience. That is why we have included autonomous driving as part of our Ford Smart Mobility experiment portfolio and why we have partnered with State Farm so that we can understand the implications autonomous driving may have on vehicle insurance. Through our partnership with the University of Michigan, Ford is one of the founding members of the Mobility Transformation Center, which includes the new “Mcity” test facility scheduled to open in the summer of 2015. In addition to the test facility itself, this partnership will provide us access to researchers working on the legal, political, social, regulatory, economic, urban planning and business issues that must be addressed in parallel with autonomous driving.
- Lidar is a remote detection system that works on the same principle of radar, but using light from a laser.