Ford is Taking the Wheel in Autonomous Driving Innovation

Tori Tellem

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“Today, we’re all hustling to make the most ambitious dreams become a reality.” Meet Jim McBride, the Ford Technical Leader for Autonomous Vehicles.


“We’ve been working diligently for a decade trying to advance autonomous driving technology,” McBride explained. Expanding this research is key in the big picture as part of the Ford Smart Mobility plan. That plan aims to take us to the next level of connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, data, analytics and your customer experience with the technology.


At the moment, we are mainly focused on engineering and development. This has included the development and testing of virtual driver software in urban and suburban environments, as well as being at the forefront of testing autonomous vehicle technology in less-than-ideal weather conditions, such as snow, or what we call “snowtonomy” – the first automotive company to publicly test in this way.


“It’s one thing for a car to drive itself in perfect weather,” said McBride. “It’s quite another to do so when the car’s sensors can’t see the road because it’s covered in snow. Weather isn’t perfect, and that’s why we tested autonomous vehicles in wintry conditions – for the roughly 70 percent of U.S. residents who live in snowy regions.”


Advancements with regard to this have included the use of cameras, radar and LiDAR sensors that generate high-resolution 3-D mapping of the landscape and 360-degree situational awareness, landmarks.


We are also testing and developing Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles at Mcity, a 32-acre, full-scale urban environment located at the University of Michigan, which features real-world road scenarios, such as traffic lights, crosswalks, bike lanes, construction barriers, various road surfaces and even roundabouts and tunnels.


Along with being tested at Mcity and on public roads, the Ford autonomous fleet has been put through its paces at the company’s vehicle development facilities in Dearborn and Romeo, Michigan, as well as at the Ford Arizona Proving Grounds, to test the Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles at night, in pitch-black darkness, mimicking things like a desert highway or winding roads which could be challenging for a human driver. “Thanks to LiDAR, the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining or cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt,” said McBride.


In 2016, we will triple our autonomous vehicle test fleet, bringing the number to about 30 specially equipped Ford Fusion Hybrid sedans being tested on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan. “We’re working to help make people’s lives better and improve their mobility,” McBride said. 


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