Ford's autonomous vehicles take to the streets of Michigan and California


LAS VEGAS – The latest additions to the fleet, 20 autonomous Fusion Hybrids, bring the Blue Oval's autonomous vehicle (AV) fleet to 30.

Ford is testing the vehicles on the streets of Michigan and, soon, California.

The vehicles will be equipped with the automaker’s Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Autosensor software, which creates driving scenarios to test the car’s ability to respond to real-world situations.

The automaker says Ultra’s lightweight, sleek design makes it ideal for installing on vehicle's side view mirror.

The design means Ford can reduce the amount of LiDAR sensors from four to two on new Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles, and get as much useful data due to the more targeted field of view.

The Blue Oval boasts it was among the first to use the Velodyne LiDAR sensor, an innovation that significantly changed the AV landscape.

LiDAR emits short pulses of laser light to precisely scan the surrounding environment millions of times per second and determine the distance to objects, allowing the vehicle to create a real-time, high-definition 3D image of whatever’s around it.

“Adding the latest generation of computers and sensors, including the smaller and more affordable Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto sensors helps bring Ford ever closer to having a fully autonomous vehicle ready for production,” says Jim McBride, Ford’s technical leader for AVs.

The automaker says the vehicle's hardware systems, which interact continuously with the virtual driver, are equally important.

Third-generation autonomous Fusion Hybrid sedans will have supplemental features and duplicate wiring for power, steering and brakes.

These supplemental features will act as backups, if needed.

AVs are part of Ford Smart Mobility, the plan to take the company to the next level in connectivity, mobility.

“Using the most advanced technology and expanding our test fleet are clear signs of our commitment to make autonomous vehicles available for millions of people,” says Raj Nair, Ford’s chief technical officer.

“With more autonomous vehicles on the road, we are accelerating the development of software algorithms that serve to make our vehicles even smarter.”

Ford is no newcomer to AV research. The newest vehicles are on Ford’s third-generation AV development platform, built using Fusion Hybrid sedans, similar to the second-generation platform.

Ford’s first AV was a F-250 Super Duty in 2005 and 2007. In 2013, Ford introduced its second-generation autonomous vehicle platform, using a Fusion Hybrid sedan.

“A decade ago, no one in the field knew what the art of the possible was. Today, we’re all hustling to make the most ambitious dreams become a reality,” says McBride.

The first-generation AV platform helped Ford understand that fully autonomous driving was technically feasible in the near future, and – through ambitious research – how it could achieve this.

Fusion Hybrid sedans were chosen for the second-generation vehicles because they have the newest and most advanced electrical architecture.

With the latest generation of computers and sensors – including the smaller, but more advanced Velodyne LiDAR HDL-32E sensor – Ford’s AV platform moved a step closer to production.

Meanwhile, Ford says it continues to hone other types of sensors – cameras, radar and ultrasonic devices – to deliver semi-autonomous features to customers today.

These include adaptive cruise control, active park assist, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping aid, pedestrian detection, Pro Trailer Backup Assist and vehicle-to-vehicle connection technology.