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Ford and Renault reveal contrasting blueprints for future vehicle automation

Ford has publicised some details of how it plans to develop its Blueprint for Mobility by publicising some details of an automated version of its Ford Fusion Hybrid.

Ford's Blueprint for Mobility concept, as espoused by its executive chairman Bill Ford, envisions autonomous functionality and advanced technologies after 2025 to reduce congestion and its knock-on damaging environmental impact.

Developed in collaboration with the University of Michigan and insurer State Farm, the vehicle builds on Ford's automated driving research that has produced driver-assist technologies in its vehicles including Ford Fusion, Ford Escape and Ford Explorer.

Separately, Renault says it will have a self-driving car on the road by 2020. As part of research into advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), Renault engineers have equipped a Zoe EV with hardware and software that enable it to drive autonomously at up to 20mph on specially designed roads.


Many questions that need to be answered say Ford

The Fusion Hybrid automated vehicle will test current and future sensing systems and driver-assist technologies. Ford’s goal is to advance development of new technologies with its supplier partners so these features can be applied to the company’s next generation of vehicles.

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said “We see a future of connected cars that communicate with each other and the world around them to make driving safer, ease traffic congestion and sustain the environment. By doing this, Ford is set to have an even greater impact in our next 100 years than we did in our first 100.”

Today’s Ford vehicles already have technology that enables them to park themselves, understand a driver’s voice commands, detect dangerous driving situations and assist with emergency braking.

“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, 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.”

The automated Fusion Hybrid will serve as the research platform to develop potential solutions for the societal, legislative and technological issues raised by a future of fully automated vehicles.

The Fusion Hybrid research vehicle builds on driver-in-control studies conducted in Ford’s VIRTTEX driving simulator. Using VIRTTEX, Ford researchers study how to merge the capabilities of human and automated drivers to create a seamless, integrated experience.


Ford’s Blueprint for Mobility

Last year at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Bill Ford outlined Ford Motor Company’s Blueprint for Mobility – a plan that describes what the automaker believes transportation will look like in 2025 and beyond, and the technologies, business models and partnerships needed to get there.

Ford foresees in the mid-term, vehicle-to-vehicle communications will begin to enter into the mainstream. This will include some autopilot capabilities, such as vehicle “platooning,” where vehicles traveling in the same direction sync up their movements to create denser driving patterns.

In the longer-term, vehicles will have fully autonomous navigation and parking. They will communicate with each other and the world around them, and become one element of a fully integrated transportation ecosystem. Personal vehicle ownership also will change as new business models develop. The benefits include improved safety, reduced traffic congestion and the ability to achieve major environmental improvements.


Light Detection And Ranging

The Ford Fusion Hybrid was chosen as the test platform for the new research effort because it is among the leaders in offering the most advanced driver-assist technologies in its class.

These technologies include Blind Spot Information System, active park assist, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support. These vehicle sensing systems, offered on many Ford vehicles today, are the building blocks for the future of fully automated driving.

Ford’s Fusion Hybrid research vehicle is unique in that it first uses the same technology found in Ford vehicles in dealer showrooms today, then adds four scanning infrared light sensors – named LiDAR (for Light Detection And Ranging) – that scan the road at 2.5 million times per second. LiDAR uses light in the same way a bat or dolphin uses sound waves, and can bounce infrared light off everything within 200 feet to generate a real-time 3D map of the surrounding environment.

The sensors can track anything dense enough to redirect light – whether stationary objects, or moving objects such as vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists.


Sustainable transportation ecosystem will require the collaboration

Ford said that developing the necessary infrastructure to support a sustainable transportation ecosystem will require the collaboration of many partners across multiple industries. The company said that State Farm and the University of Michigan’s robotics and automation research team are critical to creating the visionary research project.

Ford was an active participant in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-controlled autonomous vehicle challenges in 2004, 2005 and 2007, the year Ford extended its efforts to include the University of Michigan.

While Ford is responsible for developing components allowing for the vehicle to function at high levels of automation, the University of Michigan – under the direction of faculty members Ryan Eustice and Edwin Olson – is leading in development of sensor-based technologies. The sensors aid in the logic and virtual decision making necessary to help the vehicle understand its physical surroundings on the road.

The university’s researchers are processing the trillions of bytes of data collected by the vehicle’s sensors, from which they can build a 3D model of the environment around the vehicle. The goal is to help the vehicle – and the driver – make appropriate and safe driving decisions.

State Farm, the US insurance company, has been working with Ford to assess the impact of driver-assist technologies to determine if the technologies can lower the rate of rear collisions.

Last year there were nearly 34,000 fatalities due to traffic accidents in the United States. By developing more intelligent vehicles, Ford helps create smarter drivers.


Michigan Legislature approves autonomous vehicle testing

Separately, according to Detroit News, the testing of self-driving cars on Michigan roads (the home State of US car construction) took a step toward to becoming a reality this month after the state Legislature approved a pair of bills clearing the way.

It was reported that, under Michigan rules, a driver would be required to be in the driver’s seat at all times during testing to take over in the case of emergency. “Upfitters” of automated vehicles, such as Google, would be permitted to test vehicles along with manufacturers. Test cars would carry an “M” license plate to identify them.

It was also reported that The US National Highway Traffic Safety administrator is looking at whether to begin the regulatory process to require features such as automatic braking. Administrator David Strickland said the agency will make a decision on its plans by year’s end.

Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, told the House panel that autonomous cars could prevent many of the 32,000 or more traffic deaths and 2.2 million injuries annually.


Renault developing autonomous driving technology

According to Autocar magazine, Renault is developing a simpler version of the self-driving car, that makes use of existing sensor technology.

When a Renault Zoe enters an autonomous driving zone it alerts the driver to the opportunity of handing over control, which is done by pressing a button. The driver can regain control at any time by resting his or her hands on the steering wheel and can pass it back to the car simply by removing them. 

The technology behind the scenes uses low-cost hardware such GPS, a single forward-facing video camera mounted near the rear-view mirror, a forward-facing radar sensor and ultrasound sensors in the bumper.

Renault is stated as planning to begin introducing the hardware next year, supporting functions such as adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition. Automated driving can be enabled in the future by adding software and driver displays. 

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