Ford moves to advanced stage of autonomous car development
SAN FRANCISCO -- Ford Motor Co. said its work on autonomous vehicles has moved into the second of three phases, shifting “from a research effort to an advanced engineering program” that brings the technology closer to production.
The automaker has created a global autonomous-vehicle team led by a 29-year Ford veteran, Randy Visintainer.
It did not give a timeframe for rolling out fully autonomous technology. But executives said a number of driver-assist features that represent steps along the path toward a self-driving vehicle will be rolled out across the company’s lineup over the next five years.
“We’ve already got autonomous Ford vehicles undergoing testing, and we’re already manufacturing and selling vehicles with semi-autonomous technology,” Raj Nair, Ford’s group vice president for global product development, said at a media event here on Tuesday.
Nair said technology that helps vehicles avoid hitting pedestrians would be available in the U.S. next year on a Ford-brand vehicle. The feature already is offered on the Ford Mondeo in Europe and will be available globally on “most Ford products” by 2019, the company said in a statement.
Not necessarily first
Ford CEO Mark Fields has said his company is working toward offering affordable, mass-market autonomous vehicles but not necessarily to be first with the technology. He expects to see autonomous vehicles introduced by the end of this decade.
Fields declined to say Tuesday how far off Ford is from entering that market.
“We haven’t put a timetable on it,” he told reporters Tuesday evening, “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.”
Moving the project into the second phase means Ford now is working to test and refine its algorithms for autonomous driving, making the sensing and computing technology feasible for production. The final phase would be to turn the technology into a vehicle program.
Visintainer previously was Ford’s director of product development quality and held a number of positions in the company’s advanced engineering group. He and the autonomous vehicle team are based in Dearborn, but the team includes members in locations around the world, including Germany and the Palo Alto, Calif., research center that Ford opened in January.
Cameras play a big role in the driver-assist technologies Ford plans to make more widely available in the coming years.
Ford said rearview cameras will be standard on all of its North American light passenger vehicles by 2018 and front cameras will be on the majority of its vehicles globally by 2020. It said rearview cameras are currently standard on 19 Ford vehicles in North America.
The next-generation Super Duty pickup, coming out next year, will have seven cameras and all-new digital architecture designed to help drivers stay in their lane and better see around the vehicle and a trailer.
Ford also said it plans to offer its split-view camera feature, recently introduced on the Edge and Explorer, on “nearly all” Ford SUVs globally by 2020. The split-view feature displays images from cameras mounted in the grille and tailgate to let drivers see around blind corners.