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Ford to begin autonomous vehicle testing on California roads; Silicon Valley Lab accelerates Smart Mobility Plan

Fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid sedans will begin testing on California streets next year, as Ford Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto continues growing.

Ford is officially enrolled in the California Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program to test autonomous vehicles on public roads. The testing is further advancement of Ford’s 10-year autonomous vehicle development program and a key element of Ford Smart Mobility, the plan to take the company to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and data and analytics.

Autonomous Ford Fusion outside the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto. Click to enlarge.

The current (as of 3 December 2015) approved participants in the California program in addition to Ford are: Volkswagen Group of America; Mercedes Benz; Google; Delphi Automotive; Tesla Motors; Bosch; Nissan; Cruise Automation; BMW; and Honda.

Ford Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto is one of the largest automotive manufacturer research centers in the region, with a team of more than 100 researchers, engineers and scientists. The new research lab opened in January, expanding Ford’s presence in Silicon Valley, which began in 2012.

Eighty percent of the Palo Alto team joined Ford from the technology sector. The remaining 20% are Ford employees from the United States, China, Germany and Australia who bring automotive engineering and design expertise.

Ford expanded its Silicon Valley facility from a 15-person office to a 100-plus-person research and development center. Research the lab has conducted this past year includes:

  • Autonomous vehicle virtual test drive: This study allows virtual interaction between an autonomous car and pedestrians, replicating real-world situations to better understand and develop responses to some of the unexpected things that can happen on the road.

  • Sensor fusion: Sensors on autonomous vehicles detect and track objects in the vehicle’s view, fusing information together to provide a 360-degree view of the car’s surroundings—including street signs, other vehicles, and pedestrians.

  • Camera-based pedestrian detection. Camera sensors serve as the eyes of a vehicle, allowing the car to “see” and sense pedestrians.

  • Data-driven health care. Through data collection from Ranger pickups and motorcycles outfitted with OpenXC technology, Ford is working with Riders for Health to collect GPS data and mapping coordinates to make health care, vaccines and medication delivery to people throughout rural Africa more efficient and accessible.

    OpenXC is a combination of open source hardware and software supporting custom automotive applications and pluggable modules. It uses standard, well-known tools to open up a wealth of data from the vehicle to developers, even beyond OBD-II.

Ford has cultivated relationships with top universities this year, including University of California-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, Santa Clara and San Jose State. The company is further expanding its strategic research collaboration with Stanford in 2016, planning 13 projects covering all five areas of Ford Smart Mobility—more than double the number of collaborations this year.


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For all global automakers including Tesla it is literally a corporate death sentence if you are not among the very first to make self-driving taxi BEVs and start selling miles instead of cars using an Uber like smartphone app. Those who are late to that game will bankrupt. Here is why.

If the first fully autonomous taxi BEV services are started by say Tesla and Google in 2020 or at the latest by 2023 it should only take 5 more years after that before Tesla or Google each can activate 3 million new autonomous taxi BEVs per year each selling 100,000 miles per year to pay per trip customers. That is 6 million new BEV taxis per year in 2025 to 2028 that can replace traffic from 40 million new owner cars per year (=6*(100,000/15,000). This is the same as reducing the global demand for new owner cars by 50% in year 2025 to 2028. In other words, by 2025 to 2028 the old car makers will bankrupt in droves if they do not make driverless taxis and are selling miles instead of cars because the owner-car market is collapsing as rapidly as these new driverless BEV taxis can be activated.

BEVs are far more economical per mile than gassers when operated as a fully driverless vehicle that can do 100,000 miles per year instead of an owner scenario where 15,000 miles per year is typical. Selling 100,000 miles for 20 cents per mile makes 20,000 USD per autonomous BEV taxi per year. That can easily pay the 50,000 USD that a small long-range and fully autonomous BEV will cost including insurance, electricity and maintenance. However, if you own the car you can do 15000 miles per year and at 20 cents that would only be 3000 USD which is not enough to pay for a 50,000 USD car plus insurance, plus electricity etc. So private ownership will be far more expensive than just using a autonomous taxi. That will kill 90% of the global market for people buying cars for themselves. It is 90% gone 10 years after the first autonomous taxi service is activated and so are all the automakers that did not make such a car in due time.


@Henrick: I agree that BEV's are ideal for self-driving taxi's. But if the technology is developed for autonomous vehicles, then I think auto companies should not wait for Electric to make it happen. Driverless is the future, whether on current roads, or rails/PODS.

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Today Reuters report that Google will incorporate their self-driving unit as an independent firm in 2016 that will launch a driverless taxi service as its core business. It will start out selling rides at university campuses, military bases, and corporate office parks and then expand into more challenging city zones as the cars and the technology improves and become more capable.

That strategy makes a lot of sense in my head. It is paramount that the engineers get a real world product out on the streets that they can start to perfect with regard to the software and the associated hardware. It needs to go from lab tests and mock-up test grounds to real world applications ASAP or we risk spending 10 more years in the lab. There will be errors in the process so starting with slow mowing neighbourhood electric vehicles capped at 25 mph is not a bad idea either. I guess Google is ready to commercially launch these slow mowing taxi services in late 2016 and then improve the design into a fully capable all weather all roads capable, high speed BEV taxi service for 2020.


I would like to see the day when driverless city e-buses (of all sizes and shapes) move passengers safely from point A to B to Z and our current +/- 3,000 unshaved drivers collect food stamps.

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