Ford has just unveiled a new tool it says will help it win the race to make a fully autonomous vehicle: a coffee-can sized light and radar sensor, or LiDAR, developed by a Silicon Valley-based company called Velodyne, Inc.
The third-generation sensor is small enough that it can be mounted on the mirrors of a car, but is powerful enough to extend the LiDAR's range by 200 meters, said Mark Fields, president and CEO of Ford, during his company's CES presentation Tuesday morning.
Introducing the "Ultra Puck"
The new sensor, dubbed the "Ultra Puck," is "elegant in design, but will make a huge impact in advanced autonomous technology," Fields said. The puck enables a driverless vehicle to create a real-time, 3D map of its surroundings, while enhancing Ford's software development and testing to handle a broader range of driving scenarios.
Other autonomous vehicles, like Google's driverless car, have large LiDAR sensors mounted on the roof. Tesla does not use LiDAR, as CEO Elon Musk has said he's "not a big fan." LiDAR is also used in some camera phone prototypes to capture 3D images. But while most sensors are bulbous and bulky, Velodyne's latest model is distinctive for its size and range.
Ford plans to equip its fleet of driverless Fusion Hybrid sedans with the LiDAR sensors in the coming months, he added. The company announced it would have up to 30 autonomous vehicles, or three times the fleet's current size, on the road in California, Arizona, and Michigan later this year.
Fields did not make the announcement that most people were expecting: that Ford was teaming up with Google to combine their driverless car programs. He teased that more news was coming, including future partnerships, but said nothing of a partnership with the Silicon Valley giant.