Ford to test self-driving cars on Calif. roads – USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO – Look out Google car. You’ll soon have autonomous-vehicle company on your Silicon Valley roads.
Beginning in January, the Dearborn, Mich-based automaker will start testing its self-driving Ford Fusion Hybrid sedans in and around its Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, a facility that has mushroomed from 15 to 100 employees since it opened its doors in early 2015. In just one year, Ford has gone from running a small auto-tech outpost in Silicon Valley to hitting the California streets with its autonomous cars.
The testing will at present be limited to one sensor-packed Fusion Hybrid, and will begin with extensive route mapping before actually driverless miles are logged in the second half of 2016. The automaker said it may also consider permitting additional vehicles for autonomous testing purposes.
The Fusion Hybrid vehicles will also undergo testing at Mcity, a mock-town dedicated to researching autonomous cars just outside of Ann Arbor, Mich. The automaker joins Google in being aggressive about its quest for fully self-driving technology, while at the same time adding driver-assist functions to its existing automotive models. Google Self-Driving Car executives have long said that the goal of their program isn’t to manufacture such vehicles, but rather to partner with an existing automaker. Google has been testing its Lexus and other prototype vehicles for six years now both in Mountain View, Calif., and more recently on the streets of Austin, Texas.
Another automaker that has dedicated resources to self-driving car technology is Mercedes-Benz, which introduced its Luxury in Motion prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show last January. Audi, Tesla, BMW and others are focusing on driver-assist tech that requires a measure of vigilance and oversight from human drivers, typically in the form of occasionally touching the steering wheel while a car is steering itself down the road.
Ride-hailing giant Uber appears to be pressing into the self-driving car arena, having hired a number of researchers and engineers from robotics-focused Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. And rumors persist that Apple has been busy poaching Tesla engineers in order to develop its own vehicle. Ford’s staff growth in Palo Alto has been largely from the tech sector, with 80% of its new staffers hailing from tech companies while the rest are transfers from other parts of the Ford ecosystem.
In 2016, Ford plans to double the number of collaborative experiments – to 13 – that it will undertake in partnership with Stanford University transportation researchers.
Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter @marcodellacava.