Ford joins driverless car stampede

The Fusion research vehicle uses four LiDAR -- Light Detection And Ranging -- sensors to scan the road 2.5 million times a second, according to Ford.

Photo credit: FORD
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DETROIT -- Add Ford Motor Co. to the growing list of automakers working to bring driverless cars to the market.

Ford announced a partnership with the University of Michigan and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. to test how the technology might be applied to reduce congestion and improve traffic safety.

The test bed for Ford’s automated driving technology is a Fusion Hybrid sedan that the company showed today in Dearborn at a media briefing. The car drives itself and will be used for testing. The goal is to advance the technology so that it can be installed in mainstream vehicles by 2025. Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said earlier this year that his company plans to have driverless cars available by 2020.

Robert Bosch GmbH, the world largest supplier, is developing a suite of technologies for automated driving but says the technology must be “100 percent safe 100 percent of the time” before it can be marketed.

Some of the first aspects of automated cars are already on the road but have had mixed acceptance. Toyota’s Lexus division was first with an automated parking system in 2006 but later dropped the option because of slow sales. Ford offers automated parking in several vehicles, and dozens more are available with lane assist, which keeps the vehicle from drifting out of its lane.

The Fusion sedan is available with some of the technology that can be used for automated driving, such as the self-parking system, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

“In the future, automated driving may well help us improve driver safety and manage issues such as traffic congestion and global gridlock, yet there are still many questions that need to be answered and explored to make it a long-term reality,” said Raj Nair, group vice president for Ford global product development.

“With the automated Ford Fusion Hybrid research project, our goal is to test the limits of full automation and determine the appropriate levels for near- and mid-term deployment.”

Ford has been tinkering with self-driving vehicles for about a decade. The company has been using self-guided cars, for example, to help engineers test vehicles. The Fusion research vehicle uses four LiDAR -- Light Detection And Ranging -- sensors to scan the road 2.5 million times a second, according to Ford. The system bounces light off everything around the car up to 200 feet and creates a real-time 3D map. That data is used to keep the car safely on the road and at the proper distance from other vehicles.

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