Ford is tripling its fleet of Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles this year, part of its plan to accelerate the development of autonomous technologies.

This year, the automaker will add 20 Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles to its lot, bringing the company’s autonomous fleet to about 30 vehicles under testing. Ford recently announced its fully self-driving models would take to the streets of California this year. The company already tests them at its proving grounds, as well as on public roads in Michigan. Ford also said it would begin using a new, lower cost LiDAR sensor made by California-based Velodyne. The high cost of such sensors, which act as the eyes of a self-driving car, is one of the main technical obstacles to widespread commercialization of self-driving vehicles, industry executives say.

“Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto” sensors boast a longer range of 200 meters, making them the first auto-specific LiDAR sensors capable of handling different driving scenarios. Its lightweight, sleek design makes it optimal for placing them anywhere on a vehicle, such as on the sideview mirror. The design means Ford can reduce the amount of LiDAR sensors from four to two on new Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles and get as much useful data due to the more targeted field of view. Rival automakers are also testing fleets of self-driving cars on and off public roads. Alphabet Inc’s Google has been testing self-driving cars of various kinds, including some of its own design, since 2009.

Separately, Ford said it would collaborate with drone maker DJI to sponsor a contest to develop drone-to-vehicle communications systems using the connectivity systems Ford SYNC AppLink or OpenXC on a Ford F-150, the challenge winner receiving 100,000 dollars. The technology could allow United Nations first responders to earthquakes or tsunamis to quickly deploy drones able to survey and map hardest-hit areas.

Ford Drone-to-Car Communications F150



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