Ride-sharing company Uber, has started a self-driving pilot program in Pittsburgh to test out the technology it has been developing at its research centre for about a year and a half. The cars being deployed are are hybrid Ford Fusions that are equipped with Uber’s autonomous sensing gear rather than Ford’s light radar units.
The hybrid Ford Fusions still have a steering wheel and gas pedal and will have a human safety monitor sitting in the front seat waiting to intervene if something should go wrong. These pilot program vehicles can carry two passengers in addition to the safety monitor.
About the Hybrid Ford Fusions
Mainstream auto manufacturing companies, such as Ford, have seen the writing on the wall as to where a big segment of the market for new cars will be heading in the future. According the Detroit Free Press, Ford CEO Mark Fields said, “Why are we doing this? Consumer attitudes and their priorities regarding vehicles and transportation are changing. The world has moved from owning vehicles to owning and sharing them. This is driving us to reconsider our entire business model.”
As a result, they have developed an autonomous Ford Fusion hybrid. Ford currently has 10 of these vehicles with 20 more in production. At this point in time, these autonomous vehicles cannot be made on an assembly line, so are hand-made in Dearborn, Michigan.
We know our readers would like to know about the vehicle’s technology, so here are specs about the technology of the Ford Fusion hybrid and electric vehicles:
- Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid features a 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery
- Fusion Hybrid uses a 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery (Both models have power-split hybrid architecture)
- Regenerative braking recovers more than 94 percent of this energy and sends it back to the battery to be stored for later use.
- There are separate gauges for engine power and lithium-ion battery power and “EV” displayed when the vehicle is operating on battery power only.
While the Uber vehicles are using their own Lidar system (light radar), Ford acquired Velodyne, a lidar supplier and has since invested $150 million developing the next generation of lidar modules. Lidar, the contraption you see mounted on the roof of the car, emits light beams at high speed to capture the details of the environment surrounding the vehicle within about 100 metres. There are also cameras mounted on the bumpers and side mirrors along with short and long-range radar.
Ford has committed to developing a fully autonomous vehicle, one without a steering wheel or gas pedal, by 2021. It would be an improvement if this vehicle were fully electric, rather than the current hybrid.
Uber won’t admit that it is looking to replace drivers with autonomous vehicles, but the writing is on the wall. As soon as the technology is viable, they will probably make the switch. They have already tried to ease concerns over job losses by saying that these autonomous vehicles will require more maintenance that other cars, since they will be on the road 24 hour per day. But if they use fully electric vehicles this won’t neccesarily be the case, as EVs require considerably less maintenance than their gasoline or hybrid counterparts.
Tracey is an accountant and entrepreneur with a passion for nature. This passion is what spurred her interest in renewable energy, and the rest is history as they say. Tracey is a principal in Energy Think Group, the publisher of Solar Thermal Magazine and Tek-Think. She is also the principal at Women's Financial Help Desk. She spends her free time in the outdoors with her horses and dogs. She loves to travel.