Ford plans to test driverless cars in California next year

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A Ford Fusion prototype autonomous vehicle shown outside the company's research lab in Palo Alto, California.

Credit: Ford

Company is latest to join the state's autonomous vehicle testing program

Ford will begin testing a fully autonomous version of its Fusion Hybrid on California streets in 2016, becoming the latest major automaker to put driverless car technology to the test on real roads.

The tests are expected to take place near its research and development center in Palo Alto. The center opened in January this year and brings together more than 100 researchers, engineers and scientists and is one of several R&D centers operated by major automakers in Silicon Valley.

The prototype autonomous Ford Fusion is distinctive for the four LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors mounted on its roof. The sensors have lasers with rotating mirrors inside that allow them to perform an all-round scan of the area.

Most prototype autonomous cars use the same scanners and match the images with a database of prerecorded images to determine where the car is at any given moment.

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Ford CEO Mark Fields poses with the autonomous Fusion at the company's research lab in Palo Alto, California.

Google's self-driving cars are already a familiar sight on the roads in Palo Alto and neighboring Mountain View, where the company has its Google X research center. At 73, according to statistics from late September, the Google fleet is the largest of any company authorized by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles, but it's far from the only one.

Tesla, which is also based in Palo Alto, had licenses for 12 cars.

Mercedes Benz had the third largest fleet at 5 cars and is followed by Volkswagen, Delphi, Bosch, Nissan and Cruise Automation with 2 cars each. BMW and Honda each had one autonomous car licensed in the state, according to the latest DMV data.

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