Ford Has Been Issued a Patent to Take Autonomy Off-Road

The system can even ask occupants to exit the truck for safety over particularly difficult obstacles.

2017 Ford F-150 XLT
Ford

To many off-road enthusiasts, the appeal of the sport is the art of precision driving necessary to overcome difficult conditions and obstacles without getting stuck or damaging the vehicle. Four Wheeler Network reports that Ford has been issued a patent to take autonomous driving off the road and onto the beaten path.

But don't worry, Ford isn't about to take the steering wheel out of your Raptor. Although the patent shows a diagram involving a Ford pickup truck, it also explains that the technology involved could be used in any of Ford's passenger or commercial vehicles, including buses and taxis.

A vast array of sensors that we have come to expect from autonomous cars are part of this package—cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors, LIDAR... Other technologies, such as height sensors, rain sensors, topographic maps, and road condition detectors are unique to Ford's system. All of this data goes into a computer that is able to read the geography and make driving decisions based on the actual terrain, on or off the road. Additionally, an adaptive suspension can alter ride height and individual shock stiffness on the fly to optimize both performance and comfort.

One of the most unique features of Ford's system is that if the going gets too tough it will ask the vehicle's occupants to step outside while it negotiates the difficult terrain. Indeed, the safest way to prevent injuries in the event of a loss of control or a rollover is to not have anyone on board. A remote control or app may even allow the driver to retain some control from outside the vehicle, perhaps becoming a spotter to their own truck.

While a fully autonomous mode is expected, other levels of autonomy are also possible. A novice off-road driver could use it as a backup to their own driving skills. This is somewhat like traction and stability control on the street, though these systems are often turned off in the slippery stuff.

Although autonomous off-roading is what the patent focuses on, the bigger picture is far more important. This is an autonomous driving system that can read and adapt to difficult terrain and driving conditions, not just GPS coordinates, nearby obstacles, and unreliable signs and lane markings. A system like this has a much better chance of success when it comes to working in the real world.