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Ford to Begin Testing New Autonomous Tech Next Year

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【Summary】Next year is going to be a busy time for Ford, as the American automaker plans to focus on autonomous systems that can go beyond ferrying drivers from one point to another.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Dec 17, 2017 10:30 AM PT
Ford to Begin Testing New Autonomous Tech Next Year

Autonomous vehicles are just starting to appear on the road and automakers are already having to alter their game plans. Ford has been relatively quiet on the self-driving car front, creating partnerships with multiple companies as the automaker looks to make reduce the high costs related to autonomous vehicles and find groups that have more knowledge than the automaker in the driverless field. 

At the beginning of 2017, Ford claimed that it was targeted 2021 as the date for its release of autonomous vehicles. At the time, that figure was competitive with the majority of other automakers and companies working on driverless vehicles. Unfortunately for Ford, things are progressing incredibly quickly in the segment, as Waymo is already starting to test fully-autonomous minivans

Focus To Shift Towards Customers

Ford's Executive Vice President, Jim Farley, sees the large changes that are taking place in the segment and believes that the automaker's plans will need to shift from offering driverless machines that take people from point A to point B to being all about the customer. "What this means is that we're designing an all-new vehicle optimized for self-driving technology and the customers it will serve," wrote Farley in a post for Medium

Farley claims that creating an autonomous vehicle that's specifically built for the task of driving on its own will help the automaker create better vehicles for its partnerships, like with Lyft for instance, and stand out of the cramped crowd. Like a lot of other companies, Ford is looking into ways humans are using ride-hailing services today and are attempting to get a better understanding of its customer base before going all in on new autonomous technology. 

Four Pillars Ford's Focusing On

There are four core tenants that Ford is building its new autonomous vehicle around: commercial grade, hybrid-electric, designed for purpose, and integrated for safety. The commercial grade pillar refers to the automaker's experience in developing cars for heavy-duty service fleets, including taxi companies and police departments. How will this aspect affect the automaker's self-driving vehicle? 

"What this means is that our self-driving vehicle will have upgraded components such as brakes, wheels and body structures that can withstand more extreme work cycles, and that it will undergo more rigid durability testing before it goes on the road," wrote Farley. 

Using its expertise in its fleet segments will only help Ford, as autonomous vehicles are expected to account for over a quarter of all automobile miles driven by 2030. If there's one negative aspect of autonomous vehicles that automakers and companies haven't explored yet, it's the reliability aspect of the machines. Having extra redundancies and high-performance computers is expected to make driverless vehicles very heavy and fragile. Dealing with the country's weather, which is blisteringly hot in some parts and frigid in others, will be a tough task for the vehicles. Being able to do all this and still be reliable will be no small feat, but Ford's experience at making police vehicles and taxis stand up to years of abuse without missing a beat should come play to the automaker's benefit. 

While the main focus will be to create autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing services, Ford is also looking into using its autonomous vehicles for delivery purposes. More specifically, the automaker believes its driverless delivery vehicles can be put to good use in tricky urban environments. Aptiv's CEO recently claimed that self-driving taxis and delivery vehicles would be on the road by 2018, which reveals just how good Ford's timing is. 

Electrified Vehicles To Play Major Role 

The second major philosophy behind Ford's new driverless technology has to deal with electrified vehicles. Farley claims the automaker has a lot of experience developing hybrid powertrains for automobiles, including ones that are found in police service. Ford isn't the only automaker to announce plans to pursue an electrified powertrain for its autonomous vehicles, as the majority of companies looking into taking the driver out of the equation believe EVs and hybrids are the way to go. 

The major reason for going with a hybrid or electric setup has to do with the kind of mileage the cars will be able to get, and because hybrids "help provide the significant amount of electrical power required for self-driving sensors and computing systems without having a significant impact on the mileage," writes Farley.  

Reliability is also a major benefit, as hybrids were found to be some of the most reliable vehicles by Consumer Reportsfor 2017. Farley claims the automaker's high-voltage batteries are 99.6 percent active after the vehicle's warranty has experienced since the launch of the first hybrid back in 2004. 

Design Will Help People Come To Grips With Autonomy

The third pillar of Ford's upcoming autonomous technology puts an emphasis on the vehicle's interior and exterior design. Farley claims that Ford has done extensive customer research to understand what partners need when it comes to ride-hailing and deliveries. Farley points towards Ford's partnership with Domino's, where the automaker attempted to get a better understanding of autonomous vehicles by gauging customer reactions with the driverless machine. 

Apparently, Ford found that "customers enjoyed the voice instructions that played over speakers mounted on the outside of the vehicle to explain how to get their pizza out of the self-driving vehicle upon arrival at their house," claims Farley. 

With all of the automaker's extensive research, Ford is looking to integrate autonomous vehicles into the community in a way that doesn't make the machines polarizing. Drivers in the U.S. aren't sure about autonomous vehicles at the moment, and pushing the vehicles upon them hastily could result in the vehicles being pushed aside forever. 

Safety Thanks To Argo AI

Lastly, the fourth pillar involves packing autonomous vehicles with all of the latest safety features. Farley alludes to the partnership between Ford and Argo AI, which the automaker claims will allow it to build "a scalable software architecture with production-quality code from the start," states Farley. With an experienced company overlooking the software, and presumably the hardware, aspect of the autonomous vehicles, Ford's driverless cars should be some of the safest on the road. 

The next few years will be an extremely busy for Ford, as the automaker is shifting production of its vehicles around to accommodate for an autonomous and electrified future. Despite the new approach to driverless vehicles, Ford is still aiming to get autonomous vehicles for the public onto the road by 2021. Your Lyft, though, may be an autonomous Ford in the very near future. 

via: Medium

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