Ford rolls research platform for automated driving

December 16, 2013 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
In collaboration with the University of Michigan and insurance company State Farm, carmaker Ford has developed a research vehicle capable of highly automated driving. The move is in line with Ford's 'Blueprint for Mobility' project that provides for series vehicles with autonomous functions by 2025. The platform is based on the Ford model Fusion Hybrid; it aims at developing and perfecting advanced sensor technologies and driver assistant systems.

The concept for the Ford research vehicle is based in part on the company's 'Driver-in-Control' series of analysis, realized in Ford's VIRTTEX driving simulator. This simulator enables developers to find out how humans and automated technologies can be conflated to create a holistic driving experience. Thus, the new research platform does not only serve for resolving technological problems but also to investigate societal and legal solutions associated to automated driving.

Ford chose the Fusion Hybrid as test platform because this model is equipped with a broad range of driver assistant systems, including blind spot assistant, parking assistant active city stop and adaptive cruise control with front collision warning system. All these systems are regarded as building blocks for automated driving. In addition, the research platform is equipped with an infrared LIDAR sensor system that is said to scan the road ahead 2.5 million times per second. The instrument has a range of 60 m (about 200 ft) and generates a 3D map of the vehicle's surroundings.

Currently, Ford's development works focus on further improving existing driver assistant systems, with particular emphasis on functions that alert drivers in the case of traffic stalls and hazards ahead. In the medium term, Ford plans to enable inter-vehicle communications, for instance to 'synchronise' vehicles and thus improve the overall traffic flow. On the long run, cars will navigate and park completely autonomously. According to Ford's vision, the vehicles will communicate among themselves and with their environment and integrate themselves autonomously into the traffic.