Ford's Autonomous Offensive Places Escape Hybrid on the Front Line

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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ford s autonomous offensive places escape hybrid on the front line

With Ford having discontinued the Fusion sedan to prioritize higher-margin models, the automaker will need to select a different unit as its preferred platform for self-driving test mules. It will need to choose wisely, too. According to the company, its fourth of generation autonomous test vehicles will foreshadow real-world commercial endeavors using the technology.

On Tuesday, Ford and Argo AI announced that it would be the Escape Hybrid carrying the torch of technology. Starting this month, models fresh from the factory will be modified with the “latest advancements in sensing and computing technology.” The crossover will then be exposed to the most rigorous testing regimen the automaker’s ongoing AV program can muster. From there, the Escape will serve as the architecture and platform Ford has decided will bring its autonomous vehicle service to life.

While those services are already a year behind schedule, with the pandemic serving as a convenient excuse, Ford also wants to address some of the issues it had with its third-gen AVs. That includes everything from incorporating more-advanced LiDAR and radar systems (with a wider field of view) to designing new and improved ways of keeping those sensors clear to the car can actually function. Hysterically, automakers attempting to design autonomous vehicles found themselves flummoxed by road grime covering the sensors necessary for a vehicle’s self-driving functions. This also causes problems for modern vehicles with advanced safety systems.

On fourth-generation AVs, Ford said it would be implementing hydrophobic coatings, shaped air chambers, and more spray nozzles to keep sensing equipment debris-free and operational. Interestingly enough, this seems to have been one of the final pieces of Blue Oval’s autonomous puzzle.

From Ford:

The systems we’re incorporating into our newest test vehicles are “launch-intent” in terms of the components we believe will be needed to support commercialization. What this means is that with a well-defined architecture and platform in the Escape Hybrid, our team can continuously test and refine performance over the coming years to better prepare us for launch. Everything we learn while using them can be channeled directly into our self-driving service as soon as it starts serving customers.

That makes it sound as though Ford/Argo’s timeline to launch these commercial programs hasn’t gotten any shorter. But that has become an issue affecting the whole of the industry. Despite meaningful advancements in self-driving technologies over the last several years, every company that set a target date for commercialization has missed it. Autonomous vehicles have been stuck in a rut ever since, though the work has continued.

Ford’s AV commercial services will be focused on the delivery of packages and other goods, with autonomous cabs expected to come only after driver-free pizza delivery has been mastered. Meanwhile, the company plans on continuing to test its fleet of Fusions as the Escapes are gradually added to the roster. The automaker presently has about 100 autonomous mules operating in Austin, Detroit, Miami, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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3 of 16 comments
  • Conundrum Conundrum on Oct 22, 2020 This'll make you think. Yet Musk thinks he's done enough with the systems on a Tesla to give Level Four autonomous driving. Not even close and Level Five? Well, read the article. That Escape looks so cool with its Mr Clown hat!

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Oct 24, 2020

    That massive amount of stuff tacked on all over the car is required for truly autonomous driving. Bear that in mind when Tesla tells you its new "full self driving" software will be "feature complete" in the next release. I expect Tesla cannot ever get to full self driving with the limited suite of cameras and sensors stylishly hidden on their cars. I'd like to be wrong.

    • Mcs Mcs on Oct 24, 2020

      "That massive amount of stuff tacked on all over the car is required for truly autonomous driving." Definitely not true. Well, at least as far as LIDAR goes. Lots of issues with it. I could write volumes about it. This is from personal experience with it. On the other hand, that stack and Tesla is missing a few sensors I'd like to have. One is the ground-penetrating radar mapping system MIT is developing. It'll find a road under a foot of snow if needed. The other is a system that is still under development that can assemble optical reflections and moving shadows to see hazards that normally wouldn't be visible. My personal theory is that AVs have to be better than any human to succeed. Vision beyond the capabilities of a human is the way to get there. It also gives the system more time to react and anticipate hazards. There are rumors that Tesla may be adding this system to their sensor suite. It doesn't seem to have the issues that LIDAR has.

  • John It is ashame that a company that evaluates toaster ovens, like consumer reports, is allowed to cast such negative press upon what is perhaps the world's best selling pickup truck, such being a classic engineering marvel like the ford f150 series. I have personally bought, lived with, and have driven these vehicles for almost half a century, and I can tell you that to me they are incredible wonderfully crafted machines that have been not only helpful in every respect a truck can be, but beautiful to drive particularly with the modern technology packages now incorporated in their systems packages. I say leave the evaluations and judgement calls to those who's knowledge of automotive engineering and design are expert to the matter in question.
  • Tassos Tassos' Playmate of the dayI could not resist this one, which is a Gorgeous S class, and sold for practically peanuts, $2,600!!!! It is a lowly 300 SE from 1989, big, safe as hell, heavy and underpowered. The IDEAL car to buy for your punk kid going to college. And you can buy THREE of them for the price of that POS Honda Fit Clown car!!!!
  • SCE to AUX This is a policy problem, not a technology problem. Asking electric buses to do this service is just as absurd as asking a fleet of jitney drivers to do it.But they're thinking too small - the Tesla Semi could do the job.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Ah Mini, the news no-one was waiting for.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Gruesome Newsom has spoken, you are now required to bow and do his bidding.