Ford Moves Forward With Autonomous Vehicle Development

Ford announced that it is advancing the research and development of its autonomous technology, moving towards production with semi-autonomous – and eventually fully autonomous – vehicles.

The company’s Research and Innovation Center, located in Palo Alto, manages the Ford Smart Mobility Plan, “which aims to take the company to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience and big data,” said Ford.

Right now, the project’s focus is on expanding Ford’s semi-autonomous features. Models like the F150 pickup and Fusion sedan already feature eight different driver-assist systems. Pre-collision assist and pedestrian detection will be the next semi-autonomous features to be installed, and are expected to be offered in the U.S. next year.

“During the next five years, we will move to migrate driver-assist technologies across our product lineup to help make our roads safer and continue to increase automated driving capability,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development. “At the same time, we are working to make sure those features and the whole way you shop for, buy and own a Ford vehicle provides an outstanding customer experience.”

Through the development of driver-assist technologies like these, Ford is also learning more about the algorithms and actuators necessary for self-driving vehicles. The company said it has begun working on fully autonomous technology as part of this same project, though company executives say they aren’t in a hurry to be the first on the market

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“With the [project’s] transition to advanced engineering, autonomous driving technology enters the second of three phases in the process of bringing a feature to market,” said Ford. “As an advanced engineering program, the team now is working to make the required sensing and computing technology feasible for production and continuing testing and refinement of algorithms.”

While automakers like Tesla, Audi and Acura are already conducting road tests of their own fully autonomous vehicles, Ford said it isn’t rushing to do the same.

“We haven’t put a timetable on it but when we do come out with an autonomous vehicle, it’s very important that that vehicle is accessible to everyone and not just luxury customers, because that’s who we are as a company,” said CEO Mark Fields.