By on September 14, 2016

Autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid Side

Taking to a Dearborn stage on Monday, Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields declared, “We are expanding our business to be both an auto and mobility company.” With this statement, Fields has created additional competition. No longer will Ford only be battling traditional auto manufacturers.

Now, the automaker’s competitors include Uber, Lyft, Google, and Apple — each one focused on current and future mobility solutions. How does the company plan to win?

While Ford’s race to build an autonomous vehicle isn’t unique to the automotive industry, it illustrates how auto manufacturers are looking to and planning for the future. During his time on stage, Fields talked extensively about Ford Smart Mobility. This is the company’s plan to lead the industry in vehicle connectivity, vehicle mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience, and data & analytics. The plan’s end game? Affordable, fully autonomous vehicles, available to both consumers and businesses. (Or so Ford hopes.)

This also will lead to Ford changing its business model. Ford will go from a company entirely dependent on vehicles sales to one dependent on vehicle sales as well as transportation services. The reasoning behind this change in philosophy is influenced by the following:

Every minute in the United States, thirty new vehicles are sold.

During that same minute, seven million miles are driven, 125,000 taxis and Ubers are on the road, there are 60,000 shared rides, 450,000 bytes are transmitted between connected vehicles, and 350,000 apps are downloaded.

Ford wants a piece of that action. As Americans increasingly look at vehicle usage differently, Fields believes that Ford’s continued existence depends on providing transportation services and solutions. The first step will be to start a shuttle service to supplement public transportation in major metropolitan areas by the beginning of the next decade.

Further with Ford 2016 Sensor Coverage Area

Central to all of these plans is the fully autonomous vehicle. Fields believes that autonomous vehicles will have a significant impact on society — an impact as significant as Ford’s moving assembly line. Ford will attempt to once again, “Make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves.”

Since the autonomous vehicle is supposed to change how the world moves, how does it move? Luckily, Ford set up a demonstration on how these vehicles function on public roads. Over the last year, Ford has adding a suite of sensors to a number of Fusion Hybrids. Currently, Ford fits a high resolution color camera, short and long range radar, LIDAR, stereo cameras, and monocular cameras to their test vehicles. Paired with software development, these sensors give the Fusions the ability to drive without human input.

In order to get to this stage, Ford has partnered, invested in, or purchased four different technology companies. These companies have helped with advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LIDAR, and radar and camera sensors. Ford also is expanding its Silicon Valley operations, creating a dedicated campus in Palo Alto. This campus has new facilities and will be doubling the size of the staff by next year.

Ford has done testing at M-City, the State of Michigan’s autonomous vehicle test site, its proving grounds, and on public roads. These vehicles are referred to as an SAE Level 4 Autonomous Vehicle. They can operate independently within a geographically fenced area. The roads these vehicles travel are all mapped and verified. This is the same level autonomous vehicle that Ford will be rolling out to vehicle and livery services by 2021.

 

Besides the weird-looking roof rack, there is nothing particularly remarkable about these Fusions. Once inside, the cabin’s appointments are standard Ford fare. An engineer sits in the drivers seat, ready to take over the wheel in an emergency. Ford doesn’t want an autonomous Fusion getting ideas from your average Mustang leaving a Cars and Coffee event. Another engineer sits in the front passenger seat, viewing the data from the vehicles array of sensors.

Once the car is put in “L”, the computer takes over. Slowly accelerating through the parking lot, the Fusion scans the area for pedestrians, doors opening, and other obstacles. It then comes to a rest at a stop sign, turns right, and we’re out on a public road.

Autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid Fr

Throughout the drive, the test vehicle navigates four way stops, stop lights, pedestrian crossings, and curvy roads. Even the most sinister of all traffic maneuvers, the unprotected left turn, is no match for the Fusion. The vehicle is able to handle all of the real world situations this two mile course could offer. The various sensors send information back to the vehicle on when it is safe to proceed, make a turn, and at what speed. Acceleration and deceleration are smooth, and the steering is precise. It’s almost exactly like riding in a vehicle driven by a human.

Compared to a human driver, safety and compliance are the most obvious differences in the way an autonomous vehicle drives. The autonomous Fusion is the most cautiously driven vehicle not belonging to a drivers’ ed school. It makes complete stops, puts the turn signal on ahead of time, and yields to other vehicles at four-way stops. It also drives exactly at the speed limit and obeys all state-mandated rules of the road. A good example of this is when the vehicle came to a flashing crosswalk. In Michigan, cars must not drive through a flashing crosswalk, even if there are no pedestrians crossing the road. However, that didn’t stop two non-autonomous vehicles from driving through a flashing crosswalk during the test drive. The autonomous Fusion waited patiently until the lights stopped flashing.

After taking a ride in a self-driving vehicle, it’s not hard to see that they will make roads safer and change the way we view transportation. Vehicles will now be able to be utilized on a 24/7 basis with the biggest liability — humans — removed from the driving picture.

After a short ride and some discussion with engineers, Ford’s vision of profitability through transportation services and solutions becomes more clear. I just have one unanswered question: if four autonomous cars roll up to a four-way stop at the same time, who goes first?

[Graph: Ford Motor Company]

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38 Comments on “Now a Self-Driving Technology and Mobility Player, Ford Seeks an Edge...”


  • avatar
    jmo

    Uber is now offering autonomous vehicle rides in Pittsburgh:

    https://www.wired.com/2016/09/self-driving-autonomous-uber-pittsburgh/

    However, I take comfort in the B&B conviction that this technology will forever remain impossible.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I’m of the opinion that every disinterested and unengaged driver should be using this technology so their infuriating effects on traffic flow can be eliminated for the rest of us who pay attention to what we’re doing while behind the wheel. Let them screw around on their phones or stare idly at passing houses or zone out entirely while the car drives for them. They certainly don’t stop doing those things when the wheel is in their hands.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        I agree. I can’t get over all the insistence that this has to be perfect when the meat sacks are involved in almost 6 million crashes resulting in 100s of thousands of injuries and 10s of thousands of deaths each year.

        • 0 avatar
          PeriSoft

          I’m not insisting that it be perfect, but it would be nice if anyone was even considering research on ways to make it function outside of southern California, or at events where parking attendants direct you into a big grass lot, or when traffic cones countermand lane markings, or when an officer is directing traffic, or when snow covers the road, or when plowed snow changes the effective lane area, or on long gravel driveways, or when a rock is in the road, or when construction guys are using eye contact and gestures to tell you it’s OK to pass a work truck, or when the road has no lane markings, or when a road hasn’t been laser scanned, or when you want to use a drive through, or when you want to use a carwash, or when you need to put your car in the shop, or when you want to take a ferry, or when you need to stop at the border checkpoint to go to Niagara falls, or…

          …you probably get the idea.

          No, level four (no wheel/pedals) cars are not going to be around for a very, very, VERY long time. The people working on them are making them work only in incredibly limited situations that they happen to inhabit, and have forgotten that large chunks of the rest of the country don’t live where they live.

          And level three cars, which hand control back to the driver during bad situations, will only ensure that human drivers will take over during only the worst weather and the most challenging external conditions. That, to me, does not sound like a *sure-fire* way to reduce accidents.

          But hey, some futurist in WIRED said we’d all be sleeping on the way to work by next Tuesday, so it must be true.

          • 0 avatar
            Adam Tonge

            Ford is going to have Level 4 vehicles operational in livery, shuttle, or coach services by 2021. They are shooting for consumer purchases by the mid-2020s.

            Of course, these vehicles will be restricted to whatever the geofenced locations will be.

          • 0 avatar
            jmo

            “but it would be nice if anyone was even considering research on ways to make it function outside of southern California”

            What?

            “The San Francisco-born company chose Pittsburgh for a few reasons. The City of Bridges is home to Carnegie Mellon University, with which Uber partnered on autonomous tech, and from which Uber poached dozens of researchers. And the city offers challenging test conditions, from rain and snow to a tangled grid of narrow streets. “

          • 0 avatar
            jmo

            “…you probably get the idea.”

            That you have no idea what you’re talking about? Yeh, I got that impression.

          • 0 avatar
            Adam Tonge

            jmo-

            Ford is partnering with MIT, University of Michigan, and Stanford. That is some variation in climate and terrain.

          • 0 avatar
            dwford

            All so true. Given that these cars seem to require detailed 3D maps of the streets they drive on, they are still really not much more than glorified slot cars riding on a digital track – proven by their geofencing. There are so many unexpected situations that crop up on a daily basis on the streets, I do not see how it would be possible to program for them all.

          • 0 avatar
            PeriSoft

            jmo, feel free to tell me *how* I’m wrong rather than just *that* I’m wrong. Making cars work in a specific area with an extremely limited set of possible destinations is in a different category of difficulty than replacing a general purpose vehicle.

            How will you tell your level four car to park under the shade in your lawn so you can wash it? How will you tell it to go to Calabogie and find the ’71 Astro with the white trailer where your team is? How will you tell it to wait at the end of the driveway but off on the lawn a bit to the right for the school bus to pick up your son? How will you tell it that it needs to go a bit wide up your driveway when there’s ice so it gets enough traction?

            Level four autonomous cars can find a niche in very specific areas, like livery. But nobody writing about these cars is even approaching what are *actually* the hard problems, instead preferring to pretend that easy things like traffic rules are difficult instead.

            In what way am I wrong? Show me where people are even researching this stuff, show me the strategies that will be involved in addressing the points I’ve raised, and I’ll listen. But I have yet to go on a > 50 mile journey where I haven’t run into at least one situation that would have stopped any current or planned level four tech dead in its tracks. And it doesn’t just need to work *the vast majority of the time*. It needs to work *all the time*, because as with OCR, a 99% success rate means constant failures.

            I’m listening if people are working on this. But just saying I don’t know anything won’t convince me.

          • 0 avatar
            jmo

            ” Show me where people are even researching this stuff,”

            I thought I did. Did I not mention Pittsburgh due to it’s narrow steep streets, snow, the “Pittsburgh left?” I even provided a helpful link to the article.

          • 0 avatar
            PeriSoft

            jmo, that addresses snow, one of the easiest problems I brought up, from one of half a dozen companies. What about the other dozen or more issues I mentioned? And Uber testing livery vehicles in snow is hardly indicative of attempts to seriously solve the problem for level four vehicles. Maybe they’re going to try to solve it ‘hard’ – enough to match the capability of an average human driver – but I suspect not.

            The rest of the quote you pasted – discussing things like narrow streets and traffic flow quirks as if they represent the true challenges in l4 autonomy – belies an utter ignorance of the true difficulty of the other challenges I brought up.

            Level four self driving cars are unlikely for the same reason that we have tablets and communication out of Star Trek but not AI and flawless voice command recognition and synthesis: Some things are many many orders of magnitude easier to conceive of than they are to accomplish, and humans tend to think that easy things will be hard (traffic flow) and that hard things will be easy (explaining to my car how to get up the driveway when there’s a layer of ice under the snow in warming weather).

        • 0 avatar
          dwford

          I’m going to guess that the passenger trapped in a malfunctioning autonomous car helpless to stop their impending death will expect these cars to be perfect.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      I was impressed with the technology. I’d really like to get into the difference between the different systems and look at where everyone is in development (and with what partners). The autonomous vehicle race is fascinating.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      No one’s saying it’s impossible, jmo…only that it isn’t quite ready yet. And you can put me firmly in that camp.

      This may be irrational, but if I’m going to crash into something, I’d like to at least have the illusion that I have control. I’m sorry, I just don’t trust anyone else with my life.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        Many have said it’s impossible. Or, if not impossible, not possible within our lifetimes.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          They don’t speak for me. But frankly, I’d be a bit surprised if this were ironed out sufficiently anytime soon for large-scale, mainstream use.

          • 0 avatar
            Adam Tonge

            What do you consider mainstream or large scale?

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I’m thinking of something that would sell in volume to consumers (versus commercial buyers) if it hit dealerships. Something that would sell like a Leaf, or a Volt, maybe? Niche product but with a big enough market to justify mass production to average consumers.

            I can see this being popular for taxi companies and the like, but the mass, mainstream market isn’t ready. I’m not, that’s for sure.

          • 0 avatar
            jmo

            “I’m thinking of something that would sell in volume to consumers (versus commercial buyers) if it hit dealerships.”

            I think percentage of total consumer miles traveled or trips taken would be a better metric.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            You could put it into those terms too, jmo, but that depends on how many consumers actually choose to buy the technology. I just don’t see that happening on anything more than a niche-market scale, and I offer two reasons for that:

            1) Whether the tech is ready for prime time or not is debatable, but there’s no argument that it’ll be expensive. That alone will limit its’ appeal somewhat.

            2) The tech isn’t ready yet, clearly.

            I just don’t see consumers shelling out a lot of money for something that they aren’t ready to buy yet.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    One of the cars passed by me while I was walking on the sidewalk along Village Rd. Wonder if it was the one you were in.

    and that’s two Edge puns in headlines in as many days.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    I see these as an excellent option for the disabled. If you can’t physically drive, are blind, or its unsafe for you to drive due to some other condition, you still need to get places, and public transportation or taxi/Uber/Lyft may not be a viable option.

    I don’t see myself in one unless I had some catastrophic injury or condition that stopped me from driving.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      The first implementation will be a supplement to public transit. This could also mean a way to help those that are disabled get to main public transportation hubs. Initially, these aren’t going to be products consumers purchase. Businesses and government entities will be where the first opportunities lie.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Yeah, but I’m talking mainstream acceptance (many years into it), it will benefit those who can’t drive but need or want the freedom that comes from being mobile, without depending on family and friends to drive them.

        Im sure some people just hate driving, and would buy one just to keep from having to drive to work everyday. I’ve heard other adults my age range say driving is a chore for them, its the worst part of their day and work wouldn’t be nearly as unpleasant if they didn’t have to drive there.

        I am not one of those people. In a 1999 Saturn SL with no A/C, no power steering and a rattle trap interior with seats that would shame a Soviet penalty box, I *still* loved driving. Same with my Festiva L, although I liked it more than the Saturn. I had a commute of about 80 miles each way when I had the Saturn, 95% boring 4-lane 65 MPH highway. Driving was still the thing I had to do everyday that I didn’t mind at all. It hurt my back, but I still enjoyed it.

        I can’t imagine a day when I would rather let someone (or something) else drive. When John and I were together (side note: the book on that subject isn’t closed), I always drove. He was/is perfectly content to let me, too. I just can’t imagine not wanting to get behind the wheel at any available opportunity. Lol

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, the good news is that the blind folks won’t ***see*** their impending doom coming…

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    But what about Mark Fields’ suit? You need to be asking the tough questions!

  • avatar
    stuki

    As long as those looking to put their freely obtained Yellen notes look at actual profitability when pricing car companies, while applying dot com valuation rigor when looking at “mobility companies”, being a “Mobility company” is undoubtedly good for shareholders.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Stuki,
      I urge you to consider taking a course in economics at the local community college. There, you will learn that an economy with stable economic growth, low inflation, low unemployment, rising asset values and rising income is a good thing. Then you can start to post things that are relevant and ineligible.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        :)

        Not sure what community college you studied at, but if they offer courses up to introductory econometrics (and you took them), you would be well aware that every single one of your, admittedly fashionable, talking points, are entirely the result of measurement methodology. That there is no independent value called unemployment lying around waiting to be measured. Nor anyone called inflation. Nor “economic growth.” While “asset prices” is, and I hope you at least recognize this one, pretty much entirely dependent on what is, rather arbitrarily, designated as “assets.”

        And before you even got as far as econometrics, I would hope they made you internalize enough fundamental theory to realize that prices reflect scarcity. Meaning, higher prices reflect more scarcity. Irrespective of whether the object of study is arbitrarily deemed a “consumer good” or an “asset.” So, having learned that, does “rising asset prices” really seem like such an a priori positive?

        I’m sure you mean well but, seriously, unless and until you have acquired a toolset sufficient to chase the turtles all the way down, you are going to have a really hard time avoiding coming off as a lightweight desperate to appear “learned,” by slinging jargon you don’t fully, or even remotely, understand.

        Of course, I’d be more than delighted to be proven wrong, and to have you deduce for me, rigorously and from generally agreed upon economic axioms, exactly why what you are merely alluding to with hand waving and appeals to some form of vague notion of “authority”, is inevitably and incontrovertibly right. I just won’t hold my breath while waiting.

        And until then: As long as the financial climate remains such that share price increases continue to remain more dependent on financial demand than on actual profitability; Fields is likely doing a cracker job for shareholders, by trying to cement an image in investors’ minds, that his company belongs with a group of companies (emerging mobility ones) that generally have higher P/Es than the industrial ones Ford was previously counted as one of. But that being so, Ford derives zero revenue from “mobility.” And close to 100% from activities directly related to being an industrial company. Hence, is it not only reasonable for a sentient observer, to call him out on his attempted deployment of a reality distortion field?

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          So many words; so little meaning. Bottom line: if you think Ford is overvalued, show some stones and short the stock.

          You deserve to profit from your insight instead of sharing it with community college guys like me.

          Oh, and just for the record, the community college I attended is called Columbia and it’s in a community called the City of New York.


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