Ford is one of a number of auto makers that are working on autonomous driving, and the company just debuted their latest autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid. This new model is much sleeker than previous models, and one would even say that it’s the sleekest autonomous vehicle ever made. The biggest change that Ford made with this version of their Fusion Hybrid, is moving the LiDAR sensors. They are now located on the side of the car, almost like your side-view mirrors but a bit higher up. Ford’s Chief Program Engineer for their Autonomous Vehicle Department, Chris Brewer, noted that placing these sensors there allow the car to see all around itself. Instead of just being on the top of the car, where it has a bit more limited visibility around the vehicle.
Ford’s Brewer said in his Medium post this week that he asked his team “how do you replicate everything a human driver does behind the wheel in a vehicle that drives itself?” As any driver knows, you have to make all sorts of decisions while en route to your destination, even if its just a couple of miles away. For instance, if there is an accident on your route, you’ll want to find another way to get there. The virtual driver needs to learn things like this, before it’s ready for primetime. And this is something that other companies working on autonomous vehicles are also struggling with. Figuring out how to make their virtual driver act like a human driver.
When it comes to self-driving cars, you don’t see any that rely solely on gas, but are either hybrid or electric cars. There’s a simple reason as to why, and according to Brewer, it’s due to the fact that there isn’t enough electricity in a gas-powered vehicle to power all of the equipment needed to make their vehicle autonomous. And instead, they have tapped “into the Fusion Hybrid’s high-voltage battery pack by adding a second, independent power converter to help create two sources of power to maintain robustness.” The reason that most other auto makers have gone with all electric vehicles – like GM has done with the Chevy Bolt – is the fact that it truly makes the car autonomous. As the car could return to a charger and charge itself when it needs to be recharged. But if it is running on gas, it doesn’t have a way to refuel itself. It’s a small thing, but it keeps cars from being fully autonomous.
Ford is actually already testing autonomous vehicles on the road in Michigan, near their world headquarters in Dearborn. They are one of the many auto makers that are testing them at the MCity test facility on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. This test facility has been setup as a mock city for cars to test themselves. Additionally, because it is in Michigan, cars are able to be tested in colder conditions, which includes the snow. Ford announced last year that they have been testing their autonomous Fusion in snowy conditions already. They were the first to actually do it.
Ford announced that they will be showing off this new version of their Fusion Hybrid at CES next week in Las Vegas, as well as at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit the week after.