When people think of driverless cars, Google is usually the first company that comes to mind...possibly because they are talked about most often on news broadcasts. However, the truth of the matter is that all of the major car manufacturers are working on their own version of an autonomous driving machine. Ford has a very large presence at CES 2016 to let the public know that they are serious about bringing this technology to the American roads and are tripling - from 10 to 30 - their Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicle fleet. This will allow them to accelerate the "development and testing of its virtual driver software in both urban and suburban environments" on the roads of California, Arizona and Michigan. Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer said, "Using the most advanced technology and expanding our test fleet are clear signs of our commitment to make autonomous vehicles available for millions of people. With more autonomous vehicles on the road, we are accelerating the development of software algorithms that serve to make our vehicles even smarter."
Ford was among the first to use Velodyne's LiDAR sensors - dating back to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, when they were working with autonomous vehicle designs. Those original four engineers are still on the autonomous vehicle team today. Ford used an F-250 Super Duty in the original DARPA challenges during in 2005 and 2007; however, in 2013 Ford started using their Fusion Hybrid sedan, chosen because it uses Ford's most advanced electrical architecture when it comes to computers and sensors. Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles, said "We've come a long way since DARPA a decade ago. No one in the field knew what the art of the possible was. Today, we're all hustling to make the most ambitious dreams become a reality."
The newest LiDAR sensors by Velodyne are named Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto due to its hockey puck-like size and shape. These new 'Ultra PUCKS' have an incredible 200 meter range and this allows them to handle many different driving scenarios well in advance of the immediate surroundings. Serving as the decision-making brain that directs the vehicles, Ford will be able to accelerate the development and testing pf its software. McBride said by "Adding the latest generation of computers and sensors, including the smaller and more affordable Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto sensors helps bring Ford ever closer to having a fully autonomous vehicle ready for production. The small size and increase coverage would allow Ford to reduce the number of sensors from four to two and incorporate the Ultra PUCK into the side mirrors, for instance. It may no be such a futuristic dream after all.