University collaborates with Ford on driverless vehicle project

Monday, January 11, 2016 - 3:15pm

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In collaboration with Ford Motor Companies, the University has participated in an automotive project to test autonomous vehicles during winter conditions — the first of its kind — both groups announced Monday during the North American International Auto Show.

Researchers from the University and Ford tested Ford Fusion Hybrids at MCity, the University’s test-cite for driverless vehicles in a simulated city environment opened earlier this year. According to a press release, the goal of the testing was to observe how LiDAR sensors on the vehicles would operate in winter conditions.

LiDAR sensors generate points of laser lights to help automated vehicles navigate, creating three-dimensional images of objects surrounding the road such as signs and trees, as well as the road itself. They also help automobiles calculate precise lane locations.

Ryan Eustice, associate professor of architecture and engineering and a researcher involved in the project, said in a statement that maps and GPS systems provided by outside companies do not function consistently in harsh winter terrains.

“The ones developed by Ford and the University of Michigan do (function consistently),” Eustice said. “The maps we create contain useful information about the 3D environment around the car, allowing it to localize even with a blanket of snow covering the ground.”

He added that while LiDAR images are implemented to prevent accidents in hazardous winter conditions, inclement weather can cause snow to block roads and prevents the sensor from detecting it.

In his remarks during the auto show Monday, Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president and chief technical officer, said Ford has been testing autonomous vehicles for close to a decade and looks forward to developing the project further.

“Snow is one of the most extreme driving conditions. Snow blocks sensors and obviously creates slippery conditions. So, this testing will help us take fully autonomous vehicles to the ultimate level.”

Apart from Michigan, Ford is also testing driverless cars on roads in California and Texas.