Ford to offer autonomous employee car service in 2018

Ford Motor Co. said Monday it will offer a fully autonomous vehicle service for Ford employees around its Dearborn campus in 2018.

The automaker demonstrated its capabilities Monday along a 1.5-mile stretch of public roads in a fully autonomous Fusion Hybrid. The vehicle was equipped with four short-range radar, two long-range radar, five cameras and four LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). During the test ride, it navigated a number of driving scenarios, icluding pedestrian crosswalks, four-way stops and left turns with traffic coming the other way.

The autonomous service for Ford employees will rely solely on the capabilities of the car; Ford will not connect to any traffic lights, roadside sensors or other infrastructure. Employees will be able to use the car to move from building to building on Ford’s campus.

Ford announced an intent to eventually offer an autonomous service to employees during a campus renovation announcement earlier this year, but Monday was the first time it’s offered a specific timeframe.

Ford research engineer Ghassan Atmeh “drives” an autonomous
Ford research engineer Ghassan Atmeh “drives” an autonomous car in a demonstration on Dearborn roads. (Photo: David Guralnick / Detroit News)
“It’s a way for us to do a bit of learning so we can continue to advance and develop the capability,” said Ken Washington, Ford’s vice president of research and advanced engineering. He said Ford hasn’t determined what vehicles it will offer the service, but it will likely be something similar to the Fusions Ford has been testing for years.

The employee service in Dearborn will precede Ford’s high-volume commercial autonomous shuttle service planned for 2021.

The test Fusions started the route by turning right on Oakwood Boulevard at Ford’s Product Development Center. It encountered a number of traffic lights and pedestrian crosswalks and handled each perfectly. The driver, research engineer Gassan Atmeh, was available to take over in an emergency but did not touch the steering wheel or pedals during the 15-minute trip.

Despite its ability to navigate the route, the vehicle operated much more cautiously than normal human drivers. It came to complete stops at each stop sign, waited for cars to fully cross intersections before it began to drive, and waited a few seconds while a pedestrian crosswalk sign was flashing, even though no pedestrians were walking.

The vehicle was also programmed to go the speed limit.

“We’re still working on improving the algorithms, capturing intent of pedestrians, changing the experience of the vehicle so it’s more human like,” he said. “We think it’s absolutely possible to make the vehicle drive a little more human-like, while still being extremely safe and conservative.”