Recently, under the cover of night, a Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle with no headlights on navigated along lonely desert roads, performing a task that would be perilous for a human driver.
Driving in pitch black at Ford Arizona Proving Ground marks the next step on the company’s journey to delivering fully autonomous vehicles to customers around the globe. It’s an important development, in that it shows that even without cameras, which rely on light, Ford’s LiDAR – working with the car’s virtual driver software – is robust enough to steer flawlessly around winding roads. While it’s ideal to have all three modes of sensors – radar, cameras and LiDAR – the latter can function independently on roads without stoplights.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data has found the passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate during dark hours to be about three times higher than the daytime rate.
“Thanks to LiDAR, the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt,” says Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles. “In fact, LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day.”
To navigate in the dark, Ford self-driving cars use high-resolution 3D maps – complete with information about the road, road markings, geography, topography and landmarks like signs, buildings and trees. The vehicle uses LiDAR pulses to pinpoint itself on the map in real time. Additional data from radar gets fused with that of LiDAR to complete the full sensing capability of the autonomous vehicle.
For the desert test, Ford engineers, sporting night-vision goggles, monitored the Fusion from inside and outside the vehicle. Night vision allowed them to see the LiDAR doing its job in the form of a grid of infrared laser beams projected around the vehicle as it drove past. LiDAR sensors shoot out 2.8 million laser pulses a second to precisely scan the surrounding environment.
“Inside the car, I could feel it moving, but when I looked out the window, I only saw darkness,” describes Wayne Williams, a Ford research scientist and engineer. “As I rode in the back seat, I was following the car’s progression in real time using computer monitoring. Sure enough, it stayed precisely on track along those winding roads.”
After more than a decade of Ford autonomous vehicle research, the company is dedicated to achieving fully autonomous driving capability, which, as defined by SAE International Level 4, does not require the driver to intervene and take control of the vehicle.
This year, Ford will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet – bringing the number to about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans for testing on roads in California, Arizona and Michigan.
Porsche names e-car
Series production of the first purely electric Porsche is set to begin next year.
In preparation, the vehicle has now been given its official name: The “Mission E” concept study, the name currently used to describe Porsche’s complete electric offering, will be known as the Taycan. The name can be roughly translated as “lively young horse”, referencing the imagery at the heart of the Porsche crest, which has featured a leaping steed since 1952.
“Our new electric sports car is strong and dependable; it’s a vehicle that can consistently cover long distances and that epitomises freedom”, says Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG. The oriental name also signifies the launch of the first electric sports car with the soul of a Porsche. Porsche announced the name for its first purely electric series as part of the “70 years of sports cars” ceremony.
Two permanently excited synchronous motors (PSM) with a system output of over 600 hp (440 kW) accelerate the electric sports car to 100 km/h in well under 3.5 seconds and to 200 km/h in under twelve seconds. This performance is in addition to a continuous power level that is unprecedented among electric vehicles: Multiple jump starts are possible in succession without loss of performance, and the vehicle’s maximum range is over 500 km in accordance with the NEDC.
Names with meaning
At Porsche, the vehicle names generally have a concrete connection with the corresponding model and its characteristics: The name Boxster describes the combination of the boxer engine and roadster design; Cayenne denotes fieriness, the Cayman is incisive and agile, and the Panamera offers more than a standard Gran Turismo, which is what allowed it to win the Carrera Panamericana long-distance race. The name Macan is derived from the Indonesian word for tiger, with connotations of suppleness, power, fascination and dynamics.
Future investment doubled
Porsche plans to invest more than six billion euro in electromobility by 2022, doubling the expenditure that the company had originally planned. Of the additional three billion euro, some 500 million euro will be used for the development of Taycan variants and derivatives, around one billion euro for electrification and hybridisation of the existing product range, several hundred million for the expansion of production sites, plus around 700 million euro for new technologies, charging infrastructure and smart mobility.
Extensive modifications at tHQ
At the Porsche headquarters in Zuffenhausen, a new paint shop, dedicated assembly area for the Taycan and a conveyor bridge for transporting the painted bodies and drive units to the final assembly area are currently being constructed. The existing engine plant is being expanded to manufacture electric drives and the body shop will also be developed. Investment is also planned for the Weissach Development Centre. Production of the Taycan is creating around 1,200 new jobs in Zuffenhausen alone.
Autonomous goes off-road
Jaguar Land Rover is developing autonomous cars capable of all-terrain, off-road driving in any weather condition.
The CORTEX project will take self-driving cars off-road, ensuring they are fully capable in any weather condition: dirt, rain, ice, snow or fog. As part of the project, a “5D” technique combining acoustic, video, radar, light detection and distance sensing (LiDAR) data live in real-time is being engineered. Access to this combined data improves the awareness of the environment the car is in. Machine-learning enables the self-driving car to behave in an increasingly sophisticated way, allowing it to handle any weather condition on any terrain.
“It’s important that we develop our self-driving vehicles with the same capability and performance customers expect from all Jaguars and Land Rovers,” said Chris Holmes, Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Research Manager at Jaguar Land Rover.
“Self-driving is an inevitability for the automotive industry and ensuring that our autonomous offering is the most enjoyable, capable and safe is what drives us to explore the boundaries of innovation. CORTEX gives us the opportunity to work with some fantastic partners whose expertise will help us realise this vision in the near future.”
Jaguar Land Rover is developing fully- and semi-automated vehicle technologies, offering customers a choice of the level of automation, while maintaining an enjoyable and safe driving experience. This project forms part of the company’s vision to make the self-driving car viable in the widest range of real-life, on- and off-road driving environments and weather.
CORTEX will develop the technology through algorithm development, sensor optimisation and physical testing on off-road tracks in the UK. The University of Birmingham, with its world leading research in radar and sensing for autonomous platforms and Myrtle AI, machine learning experts, join the project. CORTEX was announced as part of Innovate UK’s third round of Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Funding in March 2018.