Ford believes that cars of the future will be able to talk to each other and nearly drive themselves, and today it revealed a major research project that'll help its vehicles get there. At an event this afternoon, Ford unveiled the Fusion Hybrid research vehicle, a modified version of its Fusion Hybrid that's able to drive on its own by detecting the world around it. "Our goal is to test the limits of full automation and determine the appropriate levels for near- and mid-term deployment," Raj Nair, a vice president at Ford, says in statement. While Ford says that most of the automation its testing won't be deployed until after 2025, it intends to phase in pieces of it little-by-little before then.
"We see a future of connected cars."
The Fusion Hybrid research vehicle includes four whirling, cylindrical LiDAR detectors on its roof in addition to a 360-degree camera. The sensors work together to visualize the surrounding world and create a 3D map that Ford says is as detailed as some video games. When they're finally implemented into production vehicles, Ford says they'll be able to reduce traffic congestion, correct driving errors, help avoid collisions, and cut down on fuel costs through more efficient driving patterns.
"The Ford Fusion Hybrid automated vehicle represents a vital step toward our vision for the future of mobility," executive chairman Bill Ford says in a statement. "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."
In the short-term, Ford just wants to make cars smarter by alerting drivers to information such as traffic alerts. Somewhat further out, Ford wants vehicles to begin talking to each other on a basic level in order to introduce some autopilot functionality. The company suggests that this could be used to automate denser driving patterns by syncing vehicles' movements. Ford didn't go into detail about what it sees happening after that, but it suggests that it would like cars to be fully aware of and in communication with the vehicles around them.
Ford also wants to explore legal issues
Ford stresses that its vision is "highly automated" vehicles though, not "driverless" ones. With its current technology, Ford says that a driver must be present to supervise a vehicle's automation features. That's not a surprising viewpoint — other automakers have adopted it too, seemingly as a way to avoid concerning consumers or drawing unfavorable attention from lawmakers.
The Fusion Hybrid research vehicle is also meant to help Ford look into public perception and legislative issues that might crop up around self-driving vehicles. "There are still many questions that need to be answered and explored to make [automated driving] a long-term reality," Nair says. Ford also says that the research project is a collaboration with the University of Michigan and State Farm.
An increasing number of automakers have detailed their interest in self-driving technology, including Nissan, Tesla, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. It's likely still a long way out before any of these manufacturers have a self-driving vehicle on sale, but it's increasingly clear that automakers recognize the technology as something worth investing in.