When Tesla shared that it would be bringing a mostly autonomous vehicle to market by 2017, the entrenched US auto industry scoffed from its ivory tower in Detroit. When Tesla started showing off its prototypes and transparently sharing its plans, supported by insane schedules and brilliant, dedicated engineers, the auto industry nervously scrambled to assemble teams and invest millions to ensure they weren’t caught with their pants down (again).
Ford specifically announced its plans in 2013, with its flagship LIDAR-equipped Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle zooming around, producing mesmerizing graphical displays of what it was “seeing” but it was not clear when or if it would ever make it into an actual production vehicle. In January 2015, Ford announced that it was opening the Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto, presumably to tap into the innovation and insights of Silicon Valley’s brightest to translate its hardware signals into a fully operable, increasingly autonomous vehicle solution.
On top of this progress, in May 2015, Ford shirked the conventional walled (patent) garden approach to innovation by opening its portfolio of electrified vehicle technology patents to competitive automakers in order to accelerate industry-wide research and development of electrified vehicles. Sound familiar? Yeah, me too. Great to see others following Tesla’s lead, even though, admittedly, Ford doesn’t have as much to lose as an all-electric manufacturer.
In June 2015, Ford moved its autonomous vehicle technology farther along the product cycle by upgrading it out of the R&D team to a full-fledged advanced-engineering project. The innovations coming out of the Ford Palo Alto center don’t stop there — Ford also announced that it has developed a MyFord® Mobile app extension for smartwatches including Android Wear that allows users to check vehicle driving range, battery charge, and more for their plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles, all from their watch. That’s pretty impressive and I can imagine checking the vehicle charge status while sipping my coffee or eating while the car picks up some extra watt-hours from the charger out front. The features include:
- Range and charge status for battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles
- Capability to initiate preconditioning of vehicle cabin remotely
- Locking/unlocking capability
- Vehicle mileage summary
- Last trip summary includes personal driving score, percentage of electric vehicle miles
- Vehicle location provides walking or driving directions back to your parked car
Fast forward to this week and Ford is now testing the very same (looking) Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle at the newly finished “Mcity,” which is “…part of the University of Michigan, and the world’s first full-scale simulated real-world urban environment designed to test connected and automated vehicles in an effort to accelerate development time.”
It’s exciting to see Ford making progress with autonomous driving. The more manufacturers we have investing in autonomous driving, the faster we’ll be able to create a transportation network that’s safer, more efficient, and let’s be honest, more like what Minority Report said the future would be like. 🙂
Steve Jurvetson posted a picture of this very same Ford Fusion with Shrek ears on his Flickr yesterday and included a few key details about its sensor array. I think that in the near future, we will talk about sensors like we talk about bluetooth connectivity, airbags, and rear-view cameras today. “Oh, it doesn’t have LIDAR v3? psssh….old school.” Here are the details Steve dropped:
The cylinders on the roof are the new Velodyne LIDAR units. Ultimately, they should reside entirely in the side mirrors, along with the cameras. The pancake discs on the center of the roof are phase-array antenna for network connectivity.
Finally, here’s a video of Ford’s latest and greatest zooming around “town:”