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Ford offers a peak into plans for driverless cars as part of a re-imagined future

5 February 2015 - Coinciding with an announcement yesterday of a two-year study into new personal mobility models in partnership with with Aachen University, Ford Motor Company President and CEO Mark Fields has outlined some brief details of his company’s contribution to the UK Autodrive driverless cars initiative.

In early December 2014, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced three consortia had been selected by InnovateUK for its Introducing driverless cars to UK roads competition.

The £19.2m budgeted, three year, UK Autodrive consortium is led by Arup and will test increasing levels of autonomy technologies on roads in Coventry and Milton Keynes.

On the announcement of the awarding of the successful bid, the consortium also stated it will develop and evaluate lightweight fully autonomous self-driving pods designed for pedestrianised spaces.

The partners in the UK Autodrive consortium are Arup, Milton Keynes Council, Coventry Council, Jaguar Land Rover, Ford Motor Company, Tata Motors European Technical Centre, RDM Group, MIRA, Oxbotica, AXA, law firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co., the Transport Systems Catapult, the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and the Open University.

 

Ford to provide two prototype cars with vehicle-to-vehicle communication capability for UK Autodrive

Ford announced yesterday that it will provide two prototype cars with vehicle-to-vehicle communication capability to help test an innovative public transport system.

However, while the company suggested that the Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity technologies such as those tested in the UK Autodrive initiative will contribute to the development of its future fully autonomous vehicles, it also indicated that it is testing fully autonomous vehicles in separate trials, and if a ‘fleet’ is more than two, on larger scale.

Indeed, it claimed that a ‘fleet of fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid research vehicles is undergoing further development and ongoing road testing as Ford shifts its autonomous vehicle efforts from a research program into a vehicle development program’.

These vehicles are said to be using the same semi-autonomous technology the Ford currently offers in Ford vehicles, plus each have four LiDAR sensors to generate a real-time 3D map of the surrounding environment.

The vehicle can sense objects around it using the LiDAR sensors, and uses advanced algorithms in concert with high fidelity maps to help it determine where vehicles and pedestrians are located and to predict where they might move.

Ford’s semi-autonomous vehicle features available today include Lane Keeping Aid, Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Active Park Assist – with Traffic Jam Assist promised as ‘coming’.

Ford added that the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity technologies such as those tested in real-world urban environments during the UK Autodrive initiative, will also contribute to the development of fully autonomous vehicles.

 

Ford's autonomous vehicle researc ha global effort

Last month Ford announced the opening its Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto, California, to speed development of technologies and experiments in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience and big data.

It also formed an alliance with Stanford University, delivering a Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle to university engineers for testing.

Dragos Maciuca, joined Ford from Apple where he served as Senior Controls Systems Engineer working on mobile technologies - to work as senior technical leader at Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto.

Additional hiring plans will mean Ford will have one of the largest automotive research teams in Silicon Valley.

Ford’s research and development in autonomous includes ongoing work with University of Michigan and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Palo Alto team will expand collaboration with Stanford University that kicked off in 2013.

For this phase of research, Ford is contributing a Fusion Autonomous Research Vehicle to the Stanford engineering program to begin testing the path planning-and-prediction algorithms researchers have developed over the past year. In addition, the Palo Alto team developed a virtual test environment based on gaming software, called aDRIVE (for Autonomous Driving Refined in Virtual Environments), that will test algorithms such as traffic sign recognition in dynamic driving situations. This allows for more aggressive time lines for validating driving algorithms to prepare for on-road testing.

 

Ford’s thinking about innovation in mobility based around ‘megatrends’ of urbanisation, the middle class, air quality and new ownership models

Ford’s European Research & Innovation Center, Aachen, Germany, will this month start a partnership with the Technology and Innovation Management Institute of RWTH Aachen University to launch the Personal Mobility Experience Innovation project.

Ford and the university will study business models from a range of industries and the transformations made by other innovators, to learn how they could be applied to the automotive industry and help deliver mobility solutions.

Ford will look at examples such as Apple and Amazon – who have expanded from being single product and service providers to delivering a full ecosystem of hardware and software platforms and services. The project will identify how such approaches could deliver enhanced car-ownership experiences; new approaches to car-sharing and personalisation of mobility solutions; and create innovative features and new business opportunities.

Four megatrends are driving the company’s thinking around innovation in mobility:

  • Urbanisation – By 2030, at least 41 megacities with populations of more than 10 million people are anticipated worldwide compared to 28 today, placing pressure on existing road infrastructures and creating a need for smarter cars, smarter roads and smarter cities;
  • Rapid growth of the global middle class – Experts suggest the global middle class will double in size to 4 billion by 2030. Many in this growing middle class will aspire to own a car, creating an obligation for automakers to address potential global gridlock;
  • Air quality issues – Increasing numbers of vehicles create the need for automakers to address air quality issues with more fuel efficient and alternative powertrains;
  • Changing consumer attitudes – Younger generations have different mobility habits – especially in Europe where integrated urban transit systems provide a credible alternative to car-ownership – creating a need for automakers to rethink how they remain relevant.

 

UK road testing of driverless cars also taking place in Bristol and Greenwich

The other two consortia that were selected to test driverless cars for Introducing driverless cars to UK roads competition were the GATEway project, which stands for the Greenwich Automated Transport Environment led by TRL, and the VENTURER consortium led by Atkins that will test driverless cars in the Bristol region.

Total investment of £19 million was promised by government to help establish UK expertise for the research, development and integration of driverless vehicles and associated technologies.

The three projects, involving trials in four cities, are scheduled to last between 18 and 36 months starting from January 2015.

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