Ford will debut its driverless cars on California’s streets in 2016. Within a single year, the carmaker has managed to expand its operations to develop and build an autonomous vehicle that is now prepped to hit streets teeming with vehicular traffic.
Beginning in January, the Dearborn, Mich-based automaker will start testing its self-driving Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan in and around its Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, reported USA Today. The company’s relatively modest small auto-tech outpost in Silicon Valley, which began a year ago with just 15 employees, has mushroomed into a full-fledged hub for development of driverless cars with about 100 engineers.
Ford has been granted permission to test one of its new 2016 Fusion Hybrid sedans on public roadways in California as part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Testing Program. The Detroit auto giant will deploy a Fusion Hybrid that’s laden with sensors, but won’t send in the car completely on its own. As per the permit and to ensure the car is functioning correctly, Ford will have one of its employees sitting inside the vehicle at all times, presumably behind the steering wheel, to take over immediately should the car make a mistake. He or she will closely monitor all the systems and ensure all sensors are feeding into the driverless navigation system.
Additionally, a systems expert will accompany the employee, confirmed James McBride, founder of Ford’s autonomous vehicle program.
“The Fusion, when it hits the road, will be occupied by one operator, who will monitor the driving controls, and one systems expert, who will monitor the car’s sensors.”
Ford’s permit to test its driverless car on California’s roads is valid for a single vehicle, but McBride assured the company intends to bring forth a “Level 4” autonomous car. A “Level 4” vehicle is the one that doesn’t require any human intervention whatsoever, even during emergencies, continued McBride.
“We’ve always taken the approach that we want the car to be able to handle any scenario a human would, and not suddenly throw the driving back into the lap of the driver when the going gets rough.”
To ensure Ford’s car is able to expertly navigate California’s roads, engineers are busy devising routes that the car will take and are providing the car with an extremely detailed map of the terrain. Ford has been extensively testing its driverless car prototypes at Mcity, a mock town dedicated to researching autonomous cars just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The company confirmed that the current iteration of the Fusion uses 360-degree cameras as well as radar systems that allow the car to “see” more of the road than any driver could, reported Los Angeles Times.
Some of the scenarios Ford engineers have envisioned are boxes accidentally falling out of a truck or pieces of a blown tire strewn across the lanes. Such contingencies are a real-life possibility, and the car will have to negotiate these safely apart from observing lanes, pedestrians, and traffic rules.
With Ford’s driverless car hitting California’s street, the company swiftly joined the ranks of Google and other companies that are racing towards the development of autonomous vehicles. Interestingly, while Google is one of the leading companies in the race, the internet giant assured that it doesn’t want to manufacture driverless cars but instead partner with an automaker. Google has a uniquely shaped pod car that’s been in the testing phase for six years now. Meanwhile, Ford managed to envision, design, develop, and test a driverless car all within a span of a year.
[Image via Ford]