Ford touts self-driving car, launches global mobility experiments

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Ford is studying the driving habits of more than 200 employee volunteers, using data collected by in-vehicle sensors to determine ways to optimize vehicle performance.

Credit: Ford

Automaker is currently testing a fully autonomous Fusion Hybrid

Ford today showcased the semi-autonomous vehicles it has on the road already and gave attendees a glimpse into fully autonomous vehicles now in development.

The carmaker also announced a series of experiments with drivers around the globe to test its vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity, autonomous cars and the use of big data collected from vehicles.

Semi-autonomous vehicle features available today from Ford include lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection and active park assist. Coming soon: traffic jam assist.

The company said a fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid research vehicle is undergoing road testing now. The vehicle relies on the same semi-autonomous technology used in Ford vehicles today, while adding four LiDAR (light, radar) sensors to generate a real-time 3D map of the surrounding environment.

"We're already manufacturing and selling semi-autonomous vehicles that use software and sensors to steer into both parallel and perpendicular parking spaces, adjust speed based on traffic flow or apply the brakes in an emergency," Ford CEO Mark Fields said in a statement. "There will be a Ford autonomous vehicle in the future, and we take putting one on the road very seriously."

Ford also announced its "Smart Mobility" plan, which encompasses experiments in 25 locations, from India to Palo Alto, Calif. The tests address four global megatrends: explosive population growth, an expanding middle class, air quality and public health concerns and changing customer priorities.

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Ford has installed sensors in volunteers' cars to track driving behavior to determine whether the data could be used to lower insurance rates.

The tests are being done mainly in urban areas such as London and Atlanta, and involve myriad topics such as data-driven insurance, rapid recharge stations for electric vehicles and car swapping between commuters.

The company's big data experiments, for example, involve 200 Ford employees from Dearborn, Mich. who volunteered to have data collected from in-vehicle sensors so Ford could study driving habits to optimize vehicle performance.

In Bangalore, Ford is working with Zoomcar to test a car-sharing concept that would allow small groups, such as co-workers, apartment dwellers and families, to share a vehicle among multiple drivers.

In London, Ford is collecting data from vehicle sensors to analyze vehicle performance to determine how it might help lower insurance rates for good drivers. The experiment is similar to others such as Progressive Insurance's SnapShot and State Farm's InDrive, which use OBD-II dongles to transmit information about your driving habits in exchange for lower rates.

Also in London, drivers volunteered to use plug-in devices that create live data on traffic and parking. Ford's City Dash app tells users whether they are legally parked. If not, the app recommends the nearest open spot. It allows drivers to pay for parking meters by mobile phone, and identifies the closest available parking spots to the driver's final destination.

Using golf carts from Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ford is testing whether a person sitting in a remote location can access real-time video streamed over LTE to drive the carts. The outcome could be a more affordable and effective way to share or park vehicles using a remote "valet."

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