DEARBORN (WWJ) — Ford Motor Co. Thursday revealed a Ford Fusion hybrid automated research vehicle that will be used to resarch automated driving and other advanced technology.
The University of Michigan and State Farm Insurance are partners in the project.
Ford’s goal is to advance development of new technologies with its supplier partners so these features can be applied to the company’s next generation of vehicles.
Today’s Ford vehicles already have technology that enables them to park themselves, understand a driver’s voice commands, detect dangerous driving situations and assist with emergency braking.
Ford officials said that with these technologies and others, one day the car could drive a person to their destination — but that the driver always will need to be in control of the wheel if necessary.
“In the future, automated driving may well help us improve driver safety and manage issues such as traffic congestion and global gridlock, yet there are still many questions that need to be answered and explored to make it a long-term reality,” said Raj Nair, group vice president, Ford global product development. “With the automated Ford Fusion Hybrid research project, our goal is to test the limits of full automation and determine the appropriate levels for near- and mid-term deployment.”
The Fusion Hybrid research vehicle builds on driver-in-control studies conducted in Ford’s VIRTTEX driving simulator. Using VIRTTEX, Ford researchers study how to merge the capabilities of human and automated drivers to create a seamless, integrated experience.
Today, Ford is working on improving technology already used in vehicles on the road. This includes functions that alert drivers to traffic jams and accidents, and technologies for parking and for driving in slow-moving traffic.
In the mid-term, vehicle-to-vehicle communications will begin to enter into the mainstream. This will include some autopilot capabilities, such as vehicle “platooning,” where vehicles traveling in the same direction sync up their movements to create denser driving patterns.
In the longer-term, vehicles will have fully autonomous navigation and parking. They will communicate with each other and the world around them, and become one element of a fully integrated transportation ecosystem. Personal vehicle ownership also will change as new business models develop. The benefits include improved safety, reduced traffic congestion and the ability to achieve major environmental improvements.
The Ford Fusion hybrid already includes technologies such as the Blind Spot Information System, active park assist, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support. These vehicle sensing systems, offered on many Ford vehicles today, are the building blocks for the future of fully automated driving.
In North America, these technologies can be found on Ford Focus, C-Max hybrids, Fusion, Taurus, Escape, Explorer and Flex. In Europe, these technologies are available on Ford C-Max, Mondeo, S-Max and Galaxy.
Ford’s Fusion Hybrid research vehicle is unique in that it first uses the same technology found in Ford vehicles in dealer showrooms today, then adds four scanning infrared light sensors – named LiDAR (for Light Detection And Ranging) – that scan the road at 2.5 million times per second. LiDAR uses light in the same way a bat or dolphin uses sound waves, and can bounce infrared light off everything within 200 feet to generate a real-time 3D map of the surrounding environment.
The sensors can track anything dense enough to redirect light – whether stationary objects, or moving objects such as vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. The sensors are so sensitive they can sense the difference between a paper bag and a small animal at nearly a football field away.
State Farm and the University of Michigan’s robotics and automation research team are part of the research project.
While Ford is responsible for developing unique components allowing for the vehicle to function at high levels of automation, the University of Michigan – under the direction of faculty members Ryan Eustice and Edwin Olson – is leading in development of sensor-based technologies. The sensors aid in the logic and virtual decision making necessary to help the vehicle understand its physical surroundings on the road.
The university’s researchers are processing the trillions of bytes of data collected by the vehicle’s sensors, from which they can build a 3D model of the environment around the vehicle. The goal is to help the vehicle – and the driver – make appropriate and safe driving decisions.
“This research builds on the University of Michigan’s long history of pioneering automotive research with Ford,” said Alec Gallimore, associate dean of research and graduate education at the school’s College of Engineering. “The unique collaboration will enable Ford to benefit from the university’s deep knowledge of robotics and automation, and it will allow University of Michigan faculty and students to work side-by-side with some of the best auto engineers in the world.”
Meanwhile, State Farm has been working with Ford to assess the impact of driver-assist technologies to determine if the technologies can lower the rate of rear collisions.