Ford’s Vision of Automated Driving Is Very Different From Google’s

Executives revealed the company's new "automated" research vehicle at a press conference

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Car companies are driving a fine line between “automated” and “driverless” driving. What’s the difference? Both are meant to give cars more control over themselves. Both are meant to make life easier for those lounging in the bucket seats. But “automated” driving comes with a big caveat: no matter how intelligent a vehicle may get, the ultimate responsibility for whatever happens still belongs to the human occupant.

That distinction is one that sidesteps complicated questions about insurance and state and federal legislation that might be needed to allow driverless cars to roam the roads. It’s also one that was reiterated at a press conference held by Ford in Dearborn, Mich., Thursday, in advance of the North American International Auto Show next month. As he revealed Ford’s third generation automated research vehicle, a Ford executive paused for a preamble: “Before we go any further, let’s define what we mean by automated,” said Vice President Raj Nair. “What we do not mean is a driverless car … this Fusion hybrid is capable of automated operation under the supervision of a human driver.”

In the near term, what Ford means by “automated operation” is the sum total of various features that many companies are rolling out piece by piece on their cars; they add up to an essentially driverless car, as you can see in the no-hands video of the new research vehicle above, but they’re broken out as high-tech helping hands for the driver. They’re what Ford’s director of research and innovation, Randy Visintainer, calls the “building blocks” of a fully automated car. Right now, the most common examples out there are features like lane-keeping systems; if a driver falls asleep, say, the car will take temporary control of the steering and, using cameras that read lane markings, keep the car where it belongs while bleeping at the driver. Analysts estimate that nearly 40% of cars will have some version of “lane assistance” by 2022.

In the next five years, Visintainer says Ford will roll out two big innovations: fully automated parking, meaning you can stand outside the car, press a button and watch the car park itself in a parallel or perpendicular spot; and traffic jam assist, shorthand for a car’s capability to fully drive itself in slow, stop-and-go situations on the highway. Other companies, like Mercedes, already have traffic-jam features on the market. Ford’s challenge is to try to keep up with the luxury companies while doing everything on a (relatively) shoestring budget.

The research vehicle presented at the conference is essentially a “blank slate” that Ford will use to test algorithms, Visintainer says, working out kinks for the features they plan to introduce on coming models. That means, for example, finding out how to give the car the capability of staying in its lane in weather conditions that reduce visibility, while using the fewest sensors possible, because sensors can get expensive. The rolling Fusion test lab is also capped with LIDAR—light detection and ranging—sensors that generate 3D maps, which Ford says they hope to one day use as constantly updated databases for their “automated” cars.  You can see what these sensors see in the video below, showing data collected by one of the new research vehicles in Ann Arbor:


Ford and most of the other major auto-makers are doing everything they can to avoid drvierless cars because they don't want to see their car sales plummet.

For example, it is very common for families to have one car for each parent so that they can each drive to their separate work locations. With driverless cars many of those families would be able to drop down to one car which could drive one parent to work early, come back empty while the other parent is getting kids ready for school, take the kids to school by itself, come back empty again, and then drive the second parent to work. Similarly, a lot of one car families that use the vehicle only lightly could become ZERO car families that pull up a smartphone app to summon an auto-taxi when they need a car. With no driver to pay, the cost of taxis should drop significantly... making them less expensive than car ownership for a much larger portion of the population.

The big automakers will go along with automation to decrease accidents because they know they'll lose their clients to safer cars if they don't. However, even though the same technology which will allow a car to operate safely if the driver falls asleep would also allow it to operate safely with no driver at all, they will continue to do everything in their power to prevent that option. They may be able to win that battle in some areas temporarily, but driverless cars will eventually be introduced SOMEWHERE on the planet, and when they are the cost savings will quickly become apparent and result in global adoption. I expect trucking companies will be in the forefront of pushing for driverless vehicles... if you remove the cost of the truck drivers you can split those savings between lower prices for consumers and increased profits for the trucking companies.


Manhattan's Ground Zero, the former World Trade Center (WTC), is becoming the World Transportation Center (WTC), epicenter of an ever-expanding, universal infrastructure that guides and propels driverless cars.