It may come as a surprise to many, but Ford has been in the autonomous vehicle development game for more than 10 years.
Back then, we were the only automaker-led effort to participate in the DARPA Grand Challenges in 2005 and 2007. We can understand why it might be a surprise because our team didn’t enter under the name “Ford,” but used “IVTS” to represent the collaborative effort. Plus, we wanted to keep a low profile, allowing us to focus on the engineering, not the promotion of our efforts.
We’ve come a long way since then, using the lessons we learned at DARPA to continue pursuing full Level-4 autonomy, which drives the vehicle without asking a human driver to intervene.
As part of that effort, we’re upping our investment in self-driving vehicles by tripling our autonomous fleet to about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans hitting the roads in Arizona, California and Michigan.
Like their predecessors, these Fusions rely on LiDAR sensor technology to drive themselves. This is what makes it possible for Ford self-driving vehicles to drive autonomously at night and on snow-covered roads.
It’s pretty complex stuff, but here’s the abridged version: The cars have high-resolution 3D maps embedded in their memory. The maps have information about the road, road markings, geography, topography and above-ground landmarks like signs, buildings and trees. Basically, everything the car needs know about the environment around it.
Then, while driving, the vehicle uses LiDAR pulses to detect above-ground landmarks, which it compares to the map to pinpoint its location. Additional data from radar and, if available, cameras gets fused with that of the LiDAR to complete the full sensing capability of the autonomous vehicle.
Looking ahead to later this year, the newest self-driving cars from Ford will be using a new Velodyne LiDAR sensor called Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK™ Auto. It’s the first LiDAR sensors capable of handling most driving scenarios, thanks to their longer 200-meter range.
Now, as we prepare to bring the latest generation to public roads, we’re excited about where this ramp-up in autonomous engineering will take us.
After all, a decade ago, who would’ve predicted where we’d be today?