By on October 21, 2020

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.]

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16 Comments on “Ford’s Autonomous Offensive Places Escape Hybrid on the Front Line...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The technology – difficult as it is – will be the easy part.

    The hard part will be convincing your chief counsel that your purportedly Level 5 autonomous car will never draw a legal claim against the company. Once engaged, Level 5 is 100% hands-off, no driver attention needed.

    Billions of dollars are being spent/wasted on this technology in so many companies, with no ROI story ever offered. For their part, Tesla should be sued for fraudulently selling yet-to-function FSD options to people, who in turn lose trade-in value when that feature is removed by Tesla for second owners.

    The promise of fully autonomous driving is one of the biggest automotive scams ever foisted onto the media, boards of directors, shareholders, and consumers alike.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      Totally agree. Billions being burned on tech with no real consumer benefit at all. How many decades will it be before a regular person is totally relaxed letting an AI car drive them around (aside from Tesla fanboys?). And to what purpose? What productive purpose is envisioned for all this free time people are going to have from not participating in driving?

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        “a regular person is totally relaxed letting an AI car drive them around (aside from Tesla fanboys?).”

        I’m a Tesla fan, but I wouldn’t be relaxed! Maybe at speeds less than 20 mph on a limited-access highway in traffic without construction and freshly paved and marked. On the other hand, the aviation safety systems I co-designed make me much more comfortable in the air.

        There are a lot of potential uses for a fully functional and reliable autonomous driving systems and even bigger uses for the technology that would make a system that actually works. It’s kind of like the moonshot program where we really didn’t get much out the the actual trip, but there was a lot of technology that benefited consumers that was a byproduct of the effort. Right now, most of the AV industry is at a stage with technology that is analogous the flappping bird-wing aircraft technology. They aren’t going to get far just like that type of aircraft would just go a few feet off the ground and crash.

        One of the spinoffs will probably be the new types of computing technology that will be needed. That’s a major portion of my time these days. Computing that is very different than the Von Neumann architecture that is common today.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          Agreed.

          I’ve seen good arguments for AVs serving people with physical handicaps, getting drunks home, getting a sick person to the ER, or performing delivery services.

          As for the spinoff tech you mentioned, that may be far more useful and greater reaching than just personal transportation.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            There are also defense applications with both EV lithium battery and AV technology. The Navy’s offensive UUV’s, if they were to decide to build such a vehicle, would need both.

            https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/11/us-navy-needs-offensive-undersea-drones/161548/

  • avatar
    dwford

    Great. So now you will have more time to sob at your fate of being stuck in a Ford Escape.

  • avatar
    RHD

    Has anyone even bothered to check if car buyers even want automated driving?
    Maybe if you have a long, boring commute. Personally, I enjoy driving too much to give that up. The ladies might like it, so they can put on their makeup and text even more than they do now.
    Maybe it can have an accessory to chew my food for me, too.
    Now is a difficult time for product planners – how much to invest in electric, SUVs (when will they go the way of the minivan?), self-driving, and so on.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Most polls are ran by the interested parties try to sell it but the handful of reputable ones seem to show customers gradually turning their backs on the technology and losing faith in its ability to improve safety as promised.

  • avatar

    I thought autonomous vehicles were already proved to be a con job. It is a shame so much time and money has been spent on this pointless technology.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/avoidable-contact-65-the-autonomous-grift-and-how-youre-going-to-pay-the-price-for-it/

    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!

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “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.

      https://arberobotics.com/technology/

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