ford self driving car

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Self-driving on roads around a company parking lot at low speeds feels like a bit of a parlor trick, and it’s hard to imagine this current system navigating the confusion of big cities. But Ford’s glimpse into the future is meant to show that the company is serious about its plans to bring a self-driving car to the ride-share market in 2021 and eventually to dealerships. Ford is enthusiastic about what self-driving will mean to its future, and plans to grow its presence in Silicon Valley.
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Unlike the rite of passage of becoming a student driver, taking a ride in an autonomous car means mean putting your life in the hands of the machine. But in actuality, riding in Ford’s well-behaved self-driving car was an unremarkable experience. Ford has programmed its cars to drive in a manner one might expect from a nervous student driver. It took long pauses to wait for pedestrians to cross at the intersection. It braked for several seconds after a full-size F-150 pulled out in front of it. The short ride through Ford’s sprawling campus consisted of a series of turns and speeds under 30 miles per hour, and Google has been giving journalists rides for several years. Except that this was suburban Detroit, a place not known for its groundbreaking software innovation. In a mere two years, Ford employees will be invited to use its autonomous cars to move around the campus.
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Ford’s current prototype, a modified, white 2012 Ford Fusion, is so naturally “some car on the road” that there’s hardly any sense of risk to it. Even with sensors bolted on top, Ford’s car isn’t reminiscent of a go-cart like Google’s self-driving car, or sleek and futuristic like Tesla’s semi-autonomous sedan. Maybe that’s why Uber went with the Fusion, too, for its competing autonomous vehicle.
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Maps are an essential part of the self-driving car network, and there are several ways to gather and process information in autonomous vehicles. Ford starts with an existing “prior map” that includes things like stop signs and landmarks. A second real-time color map is overlaid to detect changes. It’s designed to function like the human brain and retina do when driving by using a combination of sensors. “If you’re using a prior map and something is not noted, you focus the camera on it. You want to know if it’s stationary and mobile and the potential for it to move,” says Randy Visintainer, Ford’s director for autonomous vehicles.
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Ford aims to build new prototypes with new sensors in time for 2017 tests in Arizona, a state with friendlier laws for self-driving cars than Michigan has. Next, Ford will take its “developmental sensors and turn them into designs that can be mass-produced,” says Visintainer. Ford isn’t disclosing what its final, mass-produced autonomous cars will actually look like, but Visintainer described it as “being set up around the rider,” instead of the driver.
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Ford has also invested in Velodyne, a supplier that is developing its next generation of LIDAR. The improved LIDAR is smaller and more powerful, and will enable the cars to see 200 meters in the distance. It’ll be used to help navigate left hand turns on Ford’s self-driving car by the end of the year. The automaker is also currently investigating using more advanced cameras and is in talks with suppliers to determine its approach.
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Ford (F) announced Friday afternoon it would invest $1 billion over five years in a previously unheard of startup. Argo AI, led by Google and Uber veterans, will combine with Ford’s existing team to develop a fully self-driving car.
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Chris Brewer, the chief engineer for Ford’s autonomous vehicle program, detailed the tech behind the new computer-controlled car in a post on Medium. Brewer says his team upgraded both the hardware and the software on the new driverless Fusion, allowing this version of the car to “see” two football fields of distance in every direction. Ford’s second-generation autonomous car will also generate one terabyte of data per hour, and that data is processed by the car’s brain, which is located in the trunk.
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“Many traditional OEMs were initially skeptical about the commercial prospects for automated driving,” Navigant’s study says. “Most notable was Ford under its previous CEO Alan Mulally, who frequently spoke publicly about how people actually enjoy driving. However, through a combination of strategic investments and development of supporting business models, Ford and other OEMs have begun to move to the forefront.”
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Ford began developing its self-driving technology in 2005, more than 10 years ago, but over the last year has taken an aggressive public approach to be a leader in the autonomous space. It’s far from alone: BMW and Volvo have also made recent announcements about their self-driving platforms, with similar timetables, but their approaches vary. Apple, too, has something in the works.
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Detroit is not the city I associate with autonomous cars, but it soon may be. On Monday, Ford Motor Company announced plans to sell autonomous cars to the public by 2025. I hopped in the back seat of a self-driving Ford Fusion at the company’s Product Development Center in Dearborn, Michigan on Monday to get a glimpse into what that autonomous future could feel like.
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That changed 12 years ago, when Ford started developing autonomous technologies with U.S. research agency DARPA. And this week, Ford demonstrated its self-driving cars for the first time to journalists and auto enthusiasts, at its headquarters 20 minutes from downtown Detroit.
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It occurred to me as I left the Product Development Center that if Ford is successful, and can make millions of self-driving cars, one day we might not need to worry about nervous student drivers on the road. We won’t let teenagers take their lives in their own hands. We’ll put our trust in the robots doing the driving.
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The carefully orchestrated rides were the star of “Further with Ford,” the auto company’s annual conference series which I mostly missed, having flown in at six in the morning and out at seven that night, misplacing my credit card and nearly losing my laptop along the way. It was worth it anyway, angering the TSA agent in charge of lost and found. I’d just been inside a self-driving car.
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This is Ford’s wheelhouse. Ford oozes normal. You may find hordes of GM faithfuls chanting “found on road dead” and “fix or repair daily,” but if this car company, a pillar of American industry and capitalism, was a flavor, it would be something plain that everyone is OK with — vanilla.
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I didn’t test-drive Ford’s prototype alone. Inside, two “safety riders” (engineers) took up both front seats, while a second passenger and I sat in the back. As the car accelerated and the steering wheel gently swung left to right, the engineer in the driver’s seat kept his hands palm-up in his lap, ready to grip the wheel in case the computer decided to plow us into a pedestrian. Had I sat by myself in Ford’s prototype, without engineers to look out for critical errors, it might have felt more jarring.
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I rode in the backseat while two Ford software engineers rode up front, though the one in the driver’s seat made it a point to keep his hands off the wheel. The other engineer pulled up his laptop where the data and images collected from our trip was processed on the screen. When I asked their thoughts on self-driving cars, they both responded enthusiastically about how their work could change how we live. It’s been a long time since cars from Detroit have reshaped the way the world works.
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In August, Ford announced intentions to bring a fully autonomous vehicle — essentially cars without steering wheels or brake pedals — to the ride-sharing space in five years. In a speech Monday, Fields told reporters that by mid-decade people could buy self-driving cars and he hopes to make the technology available to millions.
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Half a dozen or more tech and auto companies are developing autonomous cars today. Most of these projects, from the outside, feel very real. Ford thinks it can mass-produce autonomous cars without steering wheels by 2021, initially for services like Uber. Self-driving cars may change the way humans move around forever, and they could solve mobility problems for the elderly, disabled, kids, and even New Yorkers who can’t drive.
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The automaker is in the process of recasting itself as a mobility company. By getting in on autonomous vehicles early, Ford is keen to shift its image as an old-world automaker. “We have been system integrating for a long time, hardware, software, and technology,” Ford CEO Mark Fields told me after the ride ended. “That’s why we’re so excited about the development and how quickly the development is going forward and that’s why we’re aiming to have the vehicle in the market by 2021.”
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With the new Fusion, Ford triples the size of its test fleet to 30 vehicles. In 2017, Ford (F) expects to triple its fleet again to 90 vehicles.

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