As we pulled out of the parking lot at Ford Motor Co.'s Product Development Center in Dearborn, Mich., it was hard to tell the driver's hands weren't on the wheel. Once the car entered traffic, its slow acceleration and overcautious braking revealed that the driver was anything but human.
Ford's autonomous driving technology -- which it has been developing over the past decade -- was on display for reporters and analysts last week. Ford Fusion Hybrids built in 2012 and 2013 completed a 10-minute course around Ford's campus without any human intervention. Two Ford engineers sat in the cars, which were equipped with camera, radar and lidar sensors. Inside, a computer screen displayed the map constructed from the information gathered by the sensors.
There was little traffic on the course, and the car was set to follow the speed limit, making for a relatively uneventful ride. The drive was smooth and the car took tight curves well, decelerating at the appropriate time to keep passengers upright in their seats.
"We follow all the rules of the road," said Ghassan Atmeh, the Ford engineer behind the wheel, there to take control in case of malfunction.
The sensors detect obstacles and traffic signals 200 meters away and can evaluate whether to initiate braking in a fraction of a second, said Randy Visintainer, Ford's director of autonomous vehicle development.