DEARBORN - Recently, the company introduced its Automated Fusion Hybrid research vehicle in conjunction with the University of Michigan and State Farm. @Ford had the opportunity to chat with Raj Nair, group vice president, Global Product development, about the company’s overall strategy for mobility, this new research vehicle and what “automated” means to Ford.
Q. Can you share with us a little bit about the current mobility situation?
A. As we look ahead, we see real changes in how people will travel.
Right now, there are about a billion vehicles on the road worldwide. It took roughly 100 years to get to that level. With more people and greater prosperity, some experts are forecasting that number will double and possibly double again by mid-century.
The sheer number of vehicles on the roads could threaten the personal mobility we have enjoyed for more than a century.
If we do nothing, we will create “global gridlock” – a never-ending traffic jam that wastes time, energy and resources. This is especially serious in the world's rapidly growing cities.
Q. How will Ford address this issue?
A. We are developing new solutions and reaching out to companies that are leading the way in key technologies. We are developing cars that can communicate with each other and the world around them.
We also will need to view the automobile as one element of a fully integrated transportation ecosystem.
Ford will take a leading role in making that happen.
That is the point of our Blueprint for Mobility, a plan that describes what we believe transportation will look like by 2025 and beyond – including the technologies, business models and partnerships needed to get there.
Q. What additional details are there regarding the Blueprint for Mobility?
A. In the near term, we are working on improving technology such as traffic jam and accident alerts, and automated functions for parking and driving in slow-moving traffic.
In the medium term, we believe that vehicle-to-vehicle communications will begin to break through into the mainstream. This will bring some auto-pilot capabilities such as vehicle “platooning” – where cars travelling in the same direction sync up their movements to create denser driving patterns.
In the long term, we see a future of connected cars that communicate with each other and with the world around them to improve safety, reduce traffic congestion and achieve major environmental benefits. It is likely to bring fully-automated navigation and parking.
And beyond that we see a truly integrated network not just for cars, but for all transportation.
Q. What does an “automated” car mean to Ford?
A. We do not mean is a driverless car. The Fusion Hybrid research vehicle is capable of automated operation under the supervision of a human driver. We believe the driver should always be in control.
The car is a platform for testing current and future technologies to determine which sensing systems and driver assist technologies are right for our next-generation vehicles.
Ninety-three percent of crashes are caused by human error. What if we could significantly reduce human error in driving? And what if we could improve safety by reducing driver stress and workload – especially as our largest group of buyers grows older and begins to need more assistance?
Q. What is our history working on automated technologies?
A. At Ford, we have been working on this type of technology for a long time. We have been exploring the societal, legislative and technical issues that automated driving raises for more than a decade and participating in the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) autonomous vehicle challenges since 2004.
All of this leads up to this third-generation research vehicle. We have created other vehicles capable of fully automated driving through the desert and the city.
And for the last half decade we have been making automated technology attainable for our customers culminating in vehicles such as Fusion, which is the ideal platform for a project like this.
Fusion is already equipped with a wide array of driver assist technologies. It can park itself, it can hear your voice and respond to you, and it can detect danger and assist with emergency braking whether the driver responds or not.
These technologies are great features on their own, but together, they become building blocks giving us cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and algorithms that can be combined and augmented to deliver an even more sophisticated solution.
Q. And what could that more sophisticated solution look like?
A. Our goal is to offer a level of technology in which the driver is still in control and still able to enjoy the experience of driving but in a better, safer and more efficient way.
Here are some possibilities to consider, imagine if you could free yourself from the aggravation of bumper-to-bumper traffic by letting your vehicle handle the stops and starts on its own. And because of that capability imagine saving possibly hundreds of dollars on fuel each year.
How would it feel to drive a car that could correct your driving errors and steer you clear of danger before you are even aware of it?And what if buying a new and better car could actually lower your insurance premiums
Q. What are some of the technologies that make automated driving work?
A. We have given Automated Ford Fusion Hybrid research vehicle a new way to “see the world,” mainly through its four scanning LiDAR Sensors. LiDAR technology uses light in the same way a bat or dolphin uses sound waves and interprets the reflections off of everything within 200 feet to generate a real-time 3D map of the environment around it.
It can track moving objects as well, including vehicles, pedestrians and animals.
Our mapping research vehicle also features an Omnidirectional Spherical Camera. When the 360-degree camera image is married with data obtained by LiDAR, you can see how our Fusion Hybrid research vehicle can capture a much more detailed picture of the driving environment than the human eye.
Embedded camera systems work in combination with Fusion's existing radar and ultrasonic sensors to help the car understand and react to the world.
One capability of our research vehicle is to create large-scale, 3D maps. Mapping helps plan routes, precisely determine current location, identify what's changed and anticipate what's ahead.
In real-world use, an automated vehicle would navigate based on the 3D map while gathering additional data on the active, changing world around it through LiDAR, cameras and other sensors on the car.
Using this rich set of data the Fusion Hybrid's computer sends messages to control modules for steering, throttle, brakes, shifter, signals and other components of the vehicle.
Meanwhile, the car communicates with the driver keeping the driver informed of what's happening at all times.
Q. What impact does this research have on today’s vehicles?
A. Our continued research does help us make tomorrow's technology available to our customers today.
Within the next five years, you will see several new automated features becoming available on Ford vehicles such as Traffic Jam Assist and innovations like Fully Assisted Parking Aid as seen on our
Ford Edge Concept.