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 auto. The auto is due to make its official debute next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
"It's been three years since we hit the streets with our first Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle, and this latest version takes everything we learned and builds on it", according to a blog post from Chris Brewer, Ford's chief engineer of autonomous-vehicle development, posted on Medium.
After GM took the opportunity to expand its self-driving test fleet following its home state of MI opening its roads to the technology, now Ford announces an expansion of its own test fleet with some cars going to MI and to its current fleet in California.
Ford, like many traditional automakers, has been playing catch-up in the autonomous vehicle race after Google's pioneering of the space and Tesla's aggressive roll-out of its Advanced Driver Assist software.
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At CES 2106, Ford announced it was adding 20 first-generation autonomous Fusion Hybrids to an original fleet of 10 introduced in late 2013, for a total of 30 test vehicles.
The LIDAR sensors of this vehicle have a sleeker design, and their field of vision is better targeted. These vehicles have seen tremendous technological advancements, which include the ability of driving on roads covered with snow and also being fully functional in the dark without headlights. The two sensors combined provide 360-dgree coverage and can see about "the length of two football field in every direction", Brewer notes.
The new Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous development cars still use the same platform, but they get new computer hardware that increases the processing power.
Three cameras are mounted on two racks located on the roof, which all work to identify objects on the road and read traffic lights, Brewer said. Ford says it's more than an average person uses on a smartphone in 45 years. And while Ford's self-driving goals seem quite ambitious-the company's 2021 goal involves bringing the autonomous vehicles to the ride-sharing market, and the public could buy them by 2025-this seems to be something worth keeping any eye on in 2017.