The American automaker, based in Dearborn, Michigan revealed at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week that it would invest heavily in its test group of self-driving vehicles, tripling its fleet during the course of 2016, so as to conduct more extensive experiments.
Now it appears that the manufacturer is also focusing on making its autonomous cars as sturdy and adaptable as possible, so that they can withstand all kinds of weather changes, and function just as effectively and reliably, irrespective of season, air temperature and other environmental factors.
For the first time in the history of driverless vehicles, it was proven that it’s possible for such transportation means to cope with heavy snow, navigating their surroundings without experiencing any difficulty.
Unlike Google, which has been assessing the functionality of its autonomous cars ever since 2009, but solely on the streets of Austin, Texas and Mountain View, California, Ford has been able to carry out such experiments in Ann Harbor and Detroit, where seasonal changes are more pronounced.
Thus it had the opportunity to develop its prototype vehicles more thoroughly, and equip them with sensors that can enable driving in a much wider variety of weather conditions.
Usually, autonomous cars can navigate their surroundings by being dependent on GPS data, laser sensors and road surface markings, created thanks to retroreflective paint.
However, when streets are coated in snow, that strategy no longer pays off, which is why Ford’s vehicles feature much more advanced 3D object scanning, so that they can quickly identify other cars, trees, road signs, buildings and pedestrians, even when visibility is reduced.
This way, the Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicles aren’t deterred by snowfall and ice, and can skilfully find their way irrespective of how obstructed lanes and streets might be.
By integrating Velodyne’s state-of-the-art, high-resolution LiDAR sensors called Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto, Ford’s intelligent cars can map their surroundings more accurately and faster than ever before.
The laser-based technology is also extremely responsive, updating its imaging in real-time, so that the vehicle isn’t caught off-guard by a heavy accumulation of snow.
Also, the software is equally versatile when it comes to figuring out an escape route, when a major roadblock impedes the automobile from sticking to its planned itinerary, or when sensors are compromised after being clobbered by rocks or sheets of ice.
All this progress that Ford has been making, as part of its Smart Mobility initiative, might provide it with an edge over its competitors, in the dazzling autonomous vehicle race, aimed at turning driverless cars into an indispensable fixture of the contemporary world.
Image Source: Pocket-Lint