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When we are stuck in bad traffic, my fiance Jai will often joke that he can’t wait until we have cars that drive themselves and it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. We may not have reached the futuristic vision of flying cars projected by The Jetsons, but there are big strides being made to automate some of the most dangerous parts of driving to increase safety.
Last week, I got a glimpse of Ford’s latest steps towards developing driverless technology during their 2014 news briefing in Dearborn, Michigan, where they drove out a Ford Fusion Automated Research Vehicle to give us an idea of what the future could look like.
This research vehicle is a collaboration between Ford, the University of Michigan, and State Farm. One of the technologies being tested in this car is LiDAR, which stands for “Light Detection and Ranging”. These are scanning infrared light sensors that bounce light off anything within 200 feet to create a 3-D, real-time map of your surroundings, detecting vehicles and pedestrians; it’s like a sonar for light instead of sound, hence the name. Ford broadcast an example of this on the projector in the press room, which showed us what the car was “seeing”. One of those shapes is me standing by the car and taking the photo. 😉
Ford’s goal is to develop cars that will someday have totally automatic navigation and parking, working in a network and communicating with other automobiles. Although the goal of this research is to automate as much of the driving process as possible, it’s helpful to remember that these technologies do not eliminate the need for the driver, but merely streamline what the driver is actively doing. That might make you feel a little better if you were imaging someone asleep at the wheel while their futuristic car does all the driving!
Driverless Car Features Available Now
Many aspects of driver-assist technology is already available in Ford vehicles, including Active Park Assist, Blind Spot Information System, Lane-Keeping System, and Active Cruise Control And Collision Warning With Brake Support. These are great examples of how automated technology can detect the environment around a vehicle to make the driver react better – for example, the Lane-Keeping System, which is available in 11 Ford models already, scans the road with a camera and vibrates the steering wheel if it detects that the car is drifting out of its lane. If the driver does not respond to this prompt, the vehicle provides steering torque to place the car back into the center of the lane. The vehicle will also analyze your driving patterns, and if they detect patterns similar to those of drivers who are drowsy, it pops up a warning on the screen, appropriately represented by a coffee cup!
The future of automated driving is very promising, and I can’t wait to see what innovations will make their way to the market from this research vehicle. And when you’re driving around in your LiDAR-enabled car in 2025, you can say that you saw it here first!
Read more about the Ford Motor Company’s annual North American news briefing and trend report