Ford to Test Autonomous Cars in California in 2016

A Ford Fusion, driven by a human, makes a turn outside the company’s research and innovation center in Silicon Valley. Ford will test autonomously in the second half of 2016. (Ford)

A Ford Fusion, driven by a human, makes a turn outside the company’s research and innovation center in Silicon Valley. Ford will test autonomously in the second half of 2016. (Ford)

Ford is showing more signs of a serious commitment to autonomous driving and the future of transportation. The automaker announced Tuesday that it will begin testing a fully autonomous vehicle in California in 2016.

It recently received a permit from the state’s DMV to test a Ford Fusion. Ford has already been testing on public roads in Michigan, as well as at MCity, the University of Michigan facility developed for testing autonomous vehicles. It conducts trials at its proving ground in Arizona, too.

Ford says California’s favorable weather will allow it to expand tests. (Snow and heavy rainfall are serious challenges for fully autonomous vehicles.) A new environment provides fresh opportunities for the vehicles to experience new challenges. One unique situation will be dealing with motorcycles that are legally allowed to split lanes in the state.

Planting another flag in Silicon Valley also makes it easier to develop partnerships with the wealth of tech expertise in the area. In January, Ford opened a research and innovation center in Palo Alto, Calif., and hired mostly for the tech sector. Ford says it’s also built relationships with the University of California-Berkeley, San Jose State, Santa Clara and Carnegie Mellon.

With digital technologies being essential to the future of transportation, auto companies such as Ford need to bring on some experts that haven’t traditionally worked for car companies. These car makers are now competing with tech companies such as Google, Uber and Baidu, the Chinese search engine.

Baidu, the Chinese search engine, is applying its software expertise to the challenge of autonomous vehicles. (Baidu)

Baidu, the Chinese search engine, is applying its software expertise to the challenge of autonomous vehicles. (Baidu)

Google has 53 test vehicles and has covered 1.3 million miles in autonomous mode in Mountain View, Calif., and Austin. Uber is quietly testing in Pittsburgh, where it hired dozens of robotics experts from Carnegie Mellon  this year. Baidu began testing two fully autonomous BMWs this summer. In 2014, it hired Andrew Ng, a highly regarded expert in deep learning, which is a type of artificial intelligence that’s essential for teaching vehicles to see and identify obstacles.

Ford and all other players currently appear to significantly trail Google in developing software for autonomous vehicles. However, Ford has decades of experience in car hardware.

Via:  The Washington Post