Join us for a ride in Ford's prototype self-driving car
If you're still wondering when autonomous cars are going to arrive, it's time to stop waiting because there here now.
The problem is, here isn't everywhere.
As William Gibson said, the future is not widely distributed, but one place that is has arrived is Miami, Florida of all places.
This is one of the cities that Ford and it's partner, Argo AI have chosen to deploy their prototype self-driving cars.
How do they work and can they get me safely across town?
That's what we've come here to find out.
But first, let's take a closer look at that sensor package.
Argo is a Pittsburg based, artificial intelligence company that Ford made a one billion dollar investment last year to pick up a majority stake.
With the goal of developing fully self-driving cars by 2021.
And this car is a big step toward that direction.
And this is the sensor package that makes it all work.
What we have on the bottom here is basically a stock Ford Fusion with a whole lot of computers in the truck that's pumping out a lot of hot air.
But up here is where a lot fo the magic is happening.
As you can see, we've got a ring of optical sensors.
Basically cameras looking at different focal lengths to basically give you a full on 360 view around the car.
That's augmented by a pair of Velodyne LiDAR scanners that are also scanning the car in 3D in 360 degrees, giving you basically a point cloud, so that the car can pick up all the objects, all the pedestrians, and all the palm trees around us.
That's augmented by a couple of GPS antennas, and also uses the car's integrative radar scanner, which is in the bumper of the car.
To summon one of Ford's autonomous cars, you use an app that's pretty much just like Uber or Lift.
The difference being of course, there's only a couple of possible destinations which makes the whole process go a little bit quicker.
After that it's just a matter of waiting for your car and hopping at the backseat.
After your car has arrived, there's a simple manner of buckling up your safety belts here.
And then pressing the go button on one of the two touch screens here and away we go.
Once we're underway, the displays give me some information about what the car is actually seeing.
And this is a really important part of autonomous carts, something that's often overlooked is how the cars actually communicate back to the riders.
Here I have this simplified abstracted view of the [UNKNOWN] and the optical imaging scanners that are mounted on the roof of the car, basically, pulling all of that information together and giving it to me in a display so I can see what the car is doing, and what the car is seeing, which will then, in theory, anyway, give me more confidence that the car is seeing everything around me.
So I can see things like pedestrian And parked cars.
It will even show me traffic lights and other street signs, as well.
Again, hoping to reassure the passenger sitting in the back seat the car knows exactly what's going on.
Now, communication from the self-driving car to the passenger is a very important thing, but something you might haven noticed about this self-driving car is that It's not exactly self-driving more sort of is.
In the driver's seat we have a safety operator who has his hands on the wheel always ready to take over in case the car comes across some sort of situation that it doesn't know how to handle.
In the passenger seat we have a co-driver who's looking at all the information coming out of the car sensors and making judgements.
And also giving information to the safety operator to make sure that the car is operating correctly.
If the safety operator needs to take over for any reason whatsoever.
The co-driver can then jot down the information and basically add metadata to the data that's being stored about the car.
Making sure that the engineers can then go back and look at the situation.
And then learn from that sort of thing.
So we're moving toward a self-driving car but we've got a little bit of help going on right now today.
So we're getting on toward rush hour here in And there's a fair bit of traffic but I can see all the cars around me and I can also see the red light here on the camera as well, which I can see for real.
Now the light's turned green.
It's reflected here on the display as well and as the traffic moves the car will accelerate as well.
Thanks to this green line I can see we're going to make a left hand turn here, and the car's slowing down a little bit to make sure that there's no oncoming traffic or anything like that.
And then around the corner, and pretty good.
The car's actually driving, I'd say, fairly aggressively, like a typical Miami driver might.
It accelerates pretty quickly, it turns with confidence.
And that's something that a lot of autonomous cars don't do.
In fact, many times cars have been criticized for being a little bit too conservative.
For many following the letter of the law a little bit too closely, to the point where they're actually becoming Moveable obstacles in some cases, but this car seems to move very well in traffic.
It seems to react in the kinda way that you would react in these sorta situations, so far at least.
As we sit here, we have a pedestrian walking across the street, and I can definitely see that person walking on the cross walk here in front of me as well.
So the car has definitely picked up that individual.
And so again, another message back to me that the car knows what's going on.
So I can just relax.
Alright, we've made it to our destination safely.
I never had a doubt though, did you?
But ride hilling isn't the only business revenue opportunity to Ford seized.
They're working with Post Mates and Domino's to try to figure out what an autonomous vehicle would look like for deliveries.
And these cars are actually driving around in Miami today.
However, they're actually research vehicles to see how people interact with autonomous cars.
They're not actually autonomous because there are people still behind the wheel, driving these cars.
And that is how Ford and Argo's self-driving ride-hailing service works.
Or at least will work.
The company right now is using these cars to just map the roads around Miami.
They're not actually accepting any passengers just yet.
Those autonomous delivery bands are running things around right now, but if you actually want to get in these cars, it's gonna be a little while yet.
Ford isn't saying exactly when, other than they're targeting 2021 for their fully self driving cars.
In other words, you're still gonna need a little bit more patience.
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