Ford ready to start testing 'next-generation' self-driving car

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Ford Motor Company [NYSE:F] has promised to deliver a self-driving car by 2021. The automaker is targeting Level 4 self-driving capability, meaning the car will be able to drive on its own mostly but be limited on where it can go due to a reliance on mapping data. Level 4 self-driving cars can also be upset by severe weather. (A more capable Level 5 car that can completely replace a human will come in 2025, Ford says.)

Ford’s been developing its own self-driving technology for several years and since 2013 the automaker has been testing the technology in Fusion Hybrid-based prototypes. On Wednesday, Ford unveiled what it describes as a “next-generation” self-driving prototype. The tester is still based on the Fusion Hybrid but features the latest self-driving technology from Ford.

According to the automaker, electrical controls are closer to production-ready, and adjustments to the sensor technology, including placement, allow the car to better see what’s around it. New LiDAR sensors have a sleeker design and more targeted field of vision, which enables the car to now use just two sensors rather than four while still getting just as much data.

More important than the hardware is the software that uses all of the incoming data to control the car’s motion, software Ford calls the Virtual Driver System. Ford says the system needs to have the same level of dependability to make decisions and ability to carry them out as a human. Ford says that in some cases the Virtual Driver System will even be better than a human driver.

Ford will present its next-generation self-driving prototype at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show which kicks off in Las Vegas on January 5. For more coverage on the event, head to our dedicated hub.

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