Ford tech takes steering wheel from driver's hands

One system uses three radars, ultrasonic sensors and a camera to scan the road ahead

Ford has demonstrated two new technologies that can take over control of a car for parking and avoiding slow-moving or stationary objects such as pedestrians.

A Ford Focus equipped with Obstacle Avoidance uses three radars, ultrasonic sensors and a camera to scan the road up to 200 meters ahead. If the system detects a slow-moving or stationary object it first displays a warning and then sounds a chime.

Ford also demonstrated its "Fully Assisted Parking Aid" system on its S-MAX Concept car, which enables a driver to park the car from inside or outside the vehicle by pressing a button and maintaining pressure throughout the parking process. By requiring the driver to hold the button down, it also allow them to cancel or override the system at any time by releasing it.

The Fully Assisted Parking Aid would detect a suitable parallel parking space (just 20% longer than the vehicle's length) using ultrasonic sensors. The driver would then activate the system by taking the car out of gear (putting it into neutral) and pushing a button either from inside the car or outside by remote control. The system would then take control of the steering, forward and reverse motion, braking and guidance to maneuver the vehicle into the space.

Ford demonstrates its self-parking Focus.

With Ford's Obstacle Avoidance system, if a driver does not steer or brake, the technology applies the brakes, scans for gaps on either side of the hazard, and takes control of the steering and/or brakes to avoid the collision.

The Obstacle Avoidance prototype has been tested at speeds of about 38 mph, Ford said.

Research data from the German In-Depth Accident Study (GIDAS), a long-term study of automobile accidents in Germany, showed that about 30% of drivers involved in rear-end collisions attempt to steer prior to impact.

According to research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, predictive collision warning systems can increase avoidance of rear-end accidents by 38%, and automatic braking systems can boost rear-end accident avoidance by up to 72%.

"Therefore it is estimated that 3 out of 4 accidents with severe injuries could be avoided based on the Emergency Brake Assist function and assuming a 100% installation rate," the study said.

A depiction of how Ford's accident avoidance system can detect objects in the path of a vehicle.

Ford's Obstacle Avoidance system was developed as part of a Ford-led and European-funded research project called "interactIVe" (Accident Avoidance by Active Intervention of Intelligent Vehicles). The consortium consists of 29 companies working on active safety systems, which intervene in case of imminent collisions.

"There are many instances - such as unexpectedly queuing traffic ahead - when this technology could benefit both the driver whose car is equipped with the technology and others on the road," Barb Samardzich, Ford's vice president of product development in Europe, said in a statement. "The Obstacle Avoidance research project offers an exciting glimpse of a safer future where the risk of some types of accidents could be greatly reduced."

The Ford Focus was tested on Ford's proving grounds in Lommel, Belgium.

Ford already has introduced active safety technologies in its vehicles, including Active City Stop, which uses a light detecting and ranging sensor to monitor traffic in front and scans the road ahead 50 times a second to help prevent collisions at speeds up to about 9 mph.

Ford's Lane Keeping Aid technology also features a camera that monitors the position of the vehicle relative to road markings and applies a steering torque to alert the driver if it detects the vehicle drifting out of its lane.

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Lucas Mearian

Computerworld (US)
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