As the development of self-driving technologies continues to ramp up, the test cars being used to build sensors and software are growing less conspicuous. Rather than looking like science projects with awkwardly rigged camera attachments, they're starting to appear more like regular cars. Unlike its predecessor, the Ford Fusion Hybrid Development Vehicle doesn't need a huge roof-mounted unit to understand the world around it – instead all the cameras and sensors are neatly integrated.
Although it sits on the same base platform as the current car, the new self-driving Fusion is kitted out with new, more powerful computer hardware. The electrical controls used are closer to being production ready, and Ford says the sensors used are able to see the world better than before – partially thanks to improved hardware, and partially thanks to better placement around the car.
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The new LiDAR sensors are slimmer than before, too, and a more targeted field-of-view means only two are needed, rather than the four used on the outgoing car.
All this development is aimed at having an autonomous ride-sharing Ford ready for 2021. The company has doubled the size of its Palo Alto and Silicon Valley development teams, and invested in four startups with expertise in different pieces of the self-driving puzzle, including algorithm specialists and sensor-development companies.
Having expanded the number of self-driving Fusions in its fleet to around 30 this year, the company plans on tripling that again by the end of 2017. When (or if) it launches in 2021, the Ford autonomous ride-sharing car will be capable of SAE Level 4 automation, allowing it to drive with no driver input in most conditions. Interestingly, SAE guidelines suggest Level 4 cars mightn't be able to operate in bad weather, but Ford has been testing in snowy conditions, so it will be interesting to see whether the finished product works when grey clouds come rolling in.
The new autonomous Fusion will be on display at CES and the Detroit Auto Show. New Atlas will be on the ground at both events, so stay tuned for all the latest.