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Published on January 23rd, 2015 | by Tina Casey


Ford Throws Down Autonomous Vehicle Glove, Opens Shop In Silicon Valley

January 23rd, 2015 by  

Just in case you thought cars weren’t getting high tech enough, Ford has upped the ante. Yesterday the iconic Motor City company launched the new Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto, deep in the heart of dot com territory, with the aim of developing an autonomous vehicle among other cutting edge mobility projects.

To seal its tech cred, Ford tapped Apple engineer and former Lockheed Martin R&D manager Dragos Maciuca as senior technical leader for the new research center. Did we forget to mention that the company is also pairing up with Stanford University for its autonomous vehicle research?

We took note of that project when Ford unveiled it back in December 2013, in the form of a lidar-equipped (lidar is like radar, but with light instead of sound) Fusion Hybrid. The Stanford  Autonomous Driving Team will get its hands on the car for the next phase of testing.

Its An Autonomous Vehicle World, We Just Live In It

Ford autonomous vehicle

Ford autonomous vehicle (photo by Tina Casey).

The image above is a screen projection of what the Fusion Hybrid “saw” at its debut in Dearborn, Michigan a little over a year ago. The ghostly figures surrounding it are just us tech reporters.

As you can see, the car itself looks pretty normal, but earlier this month at the Detroit auto show we caught sight of some variations on the autonomous vehicle theme.


First up is this ultra-modern WitStar Concept from China’s GAC. It caught our eye because the entire side of the car is a gull-wing door:

GAC WitStar autonomous vehicle exterior

GAC WitStar Concept autonomous vehicle (photo by Tina Casey).

Then we took a look inside and look ma, no hands! You can drive the car normally or you can push the steering wheel in and swivel around to chat with your passengers whenever you’re in autonomous mode (for loads more photos including more fish tank, visit our sister site Gas2.org):

GAC Witstar Concept autonomous vehicle interior

GAC Witstar Concept autonomous vehicle, interior (photo by Tina Casey).

In case you think the folks at GAC are getting ahead of themselves, check out a very similar interior design approach by Mercedes-Benz:

Mercedes autonomous vehicle

Mercedes autonomous vehicle (photo by Tina Casey).

At the other end of the luxury scale, the Army is developing a modest little shuttle car specifically for military bases, college campuses and other self contained facilities.

Called ARIBO for Applied Robotics for Installations and Base Operations (not to be confused with this other ARIBO), it’s the result of a public-private partnership spearheaded by the Army’s TARDEC vehicle research center. This “living laboratory” is intended as a research platform for people-to-robots interaction.

If you snuck down to the mysterious basement level of the Detroit auto show, you might have caught ARIBO going through its paces on a small track at the back of the hall. That’s what we did, and as you can see these folks seem quite comfortable with it:

Also props to the Army — in partnership with Lockheed Martin — for giving us what is probably the most gigantic autonomous vehicle in the world. Parked in the aforementioned basement, this one is called AMAS for the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System. The “Appliqué” part refers to a lidar-enabled autonomous system that can be patched on to existing vehicles. In other words, you don’t have to build an entire dedicated autonomous vehicle to get the job done.

Check out the little tags at the bottom so visitors can spot some of the lidar equipment:

US Army autonomous vehicle

US Army autonomous vehicle (photo by Tina Casey).

Actually that’s not quite true. This is not the world’s largest autonomous vehicle, because there are two of them, and one can be programmed to follow the other in a convoy.

As for the clean transport angle, with the notable exception of the Army’s Gigantor-style entry, the autonomous vehicle field is tilting in favor of electric — battery or fuel cell, take your choice.

Check out some of my other Detroit coverage highlighting Ford’s forays into connectivity and ride sharing, here and here.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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