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Ford Unveils Next-Gen Self-Driving Test Platform

Latest testbed moves system to "launch-intent" status
#Ford #tech


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It may not be the prettiest automated driving test vehicle around, but that’s not the point.

The fourth-generation platform Ford and its Argo AI affiliate are rolling out this month features all the latest bells and whistles in terms of sensors, software and battery power to help push fully automated driving closer to commercial reality.

Launch-Ready Features

“The systems we’re incorporating are ‘launch-intent’ in terms of the components we believe will be needed to support commercialization,” explains John Davis, chief engineer for Ford Autonomous Vehicles.

Ford-Argo AI’s latest robo-car platform  (Images: Ford)

It’s all packaged in Ford’s current Escape Hybrid crossover vehicle. The ultimate goal is to “create a trusted and scalable self-driving service that provides value to customers and the cities they operate in,” Davis says.

He adds that using the well-understood Escape platform will enable further technology advances to be “channeled directly into our self-driving service as soon as it starts serving customers.

Compared with the current-generation test system, the latest testing platform features these key improvements:

  • An all-new, higher-resolution lidar with 128-beam sensing and 360° field of view
  • The addition of short-range lidar and near-field cameras to monitor the vehicle’s immediate front, sides and rear surroundings
  • A modified high-voltage battery with more cells and new underfloor liquid cooling system
  • Better dirt-shedding hydrophobic coatings for exterior sensors
  • A more efficient and higher-pressure sensor cleaning system with additional spray jets and “forced-air cleaning chambers” that surround camera lenses and lidar sensors and help deflect approaching dirt and debris

Rooftop sensor pod

The new cars will be added to Ford’s existing fleet of Fusion Hybrid sedan test vehicles already operating in Austin, Detroit, Miami, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

What’s Next?

Before COVID-19 disrupted things, Ford was expected to begin commercial applications for its autonomous vehicles as soon as 2021. Now it says that moment will come in 2022.

Davis is mum on that question. But he does emphasize that the new, fourth-generation test vehicle gives the company “everything we need from a vehicle to stand up our self-driving service.”

Hardware isn’t everything, of course. Davis says Ford and Argo AI also continue to polish their go-to-market strategies for managing robo-taxi fleets and efficiently handling the movement of human passengers and goods.