Ford's Upcoming Self-Driving Car Will Be 'Commercial Grade'
It may also be able to 'talk' to bystanders.
Ford revealed more details about the design of its upcoming self-driving car, which is expected to enter production in 2021 (but don't be surprised if it doesn't). The automaker previously said the car would use a dedicated platform and hybrid powertrain, and would be built with ride-sharing in mind. But it now appears the car will be very heavily focused on fleet use.
In a Medium post, Ford executive vice president Jim Farley said the company's first self-driving car will be "commercial grade." Similar to a police car, the autonomous vehicle will have certain components like the brakes upgraded to handle more strenuous duty cycles and higher mileage than comparable passenger-car components, Farley said.
That makes sense for a car used in ride-sharing services, since that work puts it under basically the same stress as a taxi. But this car won't necessarily be just a robotic Crown Victoria. Farley hinted that fleet use could involve jobs besides carrying passengers, referencing a test of autonomous pizza delivery vehicles conducted with Domino's as an area the Blue Oval wants to investigate further.
Farley also discussed the need for self-driving cars to communicate with human beings. Ford got a lot of attention when it dressed a man up as a car seat to test different ways for self-driving cars to signal pedestrians, and customers received voice instructions from the autonomous Domino's delivery vehicles in order to get their pizzas. Farley emphasized the need for systems like these, so it's possible that future Ford self-driving cars will "talk" to people.
As previously discussed by Ford, the self-driving car will feature a hybrid powertrain. This not only reduces emissions but also provides the necessary electrical power for the array of sensors and computers that make autonomous driving possible. Ford currently uses a fleet of Fusion Hybrids as autonomous test mules.
Ford expects to launch public self-driving car pilot programs next year in the "first city where we plan to operate an autonomous vehicle business," Farley said. It will be interesting to see if self-driving cars are allowed to roam freely throughout that city, or if they will be confined to a specific area, similar to the pilot program being run by NuTonomy and Lyft in Boston.