Ford, Stanford and MIT research giving self-driving cars ‘intuition’

A Ford Fusion hybrid test car used in research on automated driving and other advanced technologies.
(Ford Motor Co. )

Ford Motor Co. will team with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University to try to figure out how to give self-driving, or automated, cars “intuition.”

The Stanford research will examine how a car’s LiDAR infrared sensors could see around obstacles.

Similar to the way a bat or dolphin uses sound waves, LiDAR bounces infrared light off of objects up to 200 feet away and then uses the data to create a real-time 3-D map of the vicinity. The sensors are powerful enough to tell the difference between a paper bag and a small animal almost a football field away, Ford said.

“Typically, when a driver’s view is blocked by an obstacle like a big truck, the driver will maneuver within the lane to take a peek around it and see what is ahead,” Ford said in a statement.


The research would look at how to enable the sensors to also discern what is ahead and make evasive maneuvers if needed. For example, if the truck ahead slammed on its brakes, the vehicle would know if the area around it is clear to safely change lanes, the automaker said.

“Our goal is to provide the vehicle with common sense,” said Greg Stevens, global manager for driver assistance and active safety, Ford research and innovation. “Drivers are good at using the cues around them to predict what will happen next, and they know that what you can’t see is often as important as what you can see.”

He said the research aims to give a similar “intuition” to the vehicle.

Ford will work with MIT to generate a real-time 3-D map of the vehicle’s surrounding environment through the use of the LiDAR sensors.

The research with MIT employs algorithms that help the car predict where moving vehicles and pedestrians will be.

If successful, the mapping will allow the car to plan a path that will safely avoid pedestrians, bicycles and other vehicles. This is an important function for cars on auto-pilot.

“To deliver on our vision for the future of mobility, we need to work with many new partners across the public and private sectors, and we need to start today,” said Paul Mascarenas, Ford’s chief technical office.

Last month, Ford said it was working with the University of Michigan and State Farm Insurance to develop an autonomous Ford Fusion hybrid test car.


Though rapid, the evolution will move in stages, Ford said. Its current vehicles can self-park, self-drive in slow-moving traffic and redirect drivers around heavy traffic. The second step will see vehicles communicate with one another, allowing them to wirelessly link up and travel together to ease congestion.

The third and final step, according to Ford, will be fully autonomous vehicles.

In the meantime, state and federal legislation will need to catch up. Currently, only California, Michigan, Nevada and Florida allow the testing of self-driving cars.

Many automakers expect to bring self-driving technology to the road by 2020.



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