President, Argo AI Peter Rander, shares his experience from the backseat of one of Ford’s self-driving test vehicles.
The new Ford Fusion Hybrid is a third-generation test vehicle that Argo AI is now deploying in collaboration with Ford in the five major cities in which they are operating: Pittsburgh, Palo Alto, Miami, Washington DC and now Detroit, where they’re expanding their testing footprint.
Riding through the historic Corktown neighbourhood and passing Michigan Central Station on our way downtown, I couldn’t help but be struck by this milestone. Almost three decades after I left the automotive industry in Detroit and began researching computer vision and other self-driving technologies at Carnegie Mellon University, here I was back in my old haunt, experiencing our latest creation as it navigated streets and routed itself past new construction projects. A new form of transportation striving to emerge in a city that’s also in the midst of its own stunning transformation.
I grew up in western Michigan and went to college at what’s now the University of Detroit Mercy. My first experience in the automotive industry involved witnessing how new technology was integrated into cars, which inspired me to think about how we could take advantage of even more advanced ideas. With self-driving vehicles, that’s exactly what we’re doing now at Argo, working hand-in-hand with automakers such as Ford.
This has never been more apparent to me than with our new, third-generation test vehicles. They’re not only outfitted with new technology that’s a step closer to production specification, but also modifications that are designed to help ensure they stay safe through a variety of conditions.
Of course, the new cars are equipped with a significantly upgraded sensor suite, including new sets of radar and cameras with higher resolution and higher dynamic range. Our new test fleet also features a new computing system, with more processing power and improved thermal management systems that generate less heat and noise inside the vehicle, resulting in a smarter, quieter, more comfortable ride.
Additionally, we’ve gone to great lengths to help ensure our vehicles can continue operating safely if something unexpected occurs. Our latest development vehicles now feature redundant braking and steering systems that help maintain vehicle motion control in the event one of the units stops functioning. These types of redundant systems are included to help ensure the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles, granting them the ability to detect faults and preserve their ability to safely stop or pull over as needed.
In addition to continuing work in our other test cities, bringing these vehicles to Detroit gives us the opportunity to learn how they operate in yet another environment , one where we have engineering operations in close proximity and where Corktown serves as Ford’s base for self-driving vehicle development. Every city represents a unique opportunity to make our self-driving system smarter because of the exposure to different road infrastructure design, driving behaviour and even traffic light placement. The collective knowledge we’re gaining by operating in five very different locales is a big part of the reason why we’re making great progress.
Just as Detroit enters a new era of revitalisation, we are entering a new era for transportation. When I left the city in 1991 to study, the idea of self-driving cars sounded so outlandish that it was dismissed to the realm of fantasy.
Yet serious research was already being conducted by very smart people long before I came along. I was fortunate to join some of these researchers in their efforts and coming back to Detroit now to see our autonomous cars navigating its streets, I felt an incredible sense of pride and humility. Only by standing on the shoulders of intellectual giants have we been able to get this far and while we still have some way to go, I can’t wait to see what the future holds.