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