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Ford Is Taking Its Self-Driving Car Experiment Overseas

Ford is testing autonomous Fusion hybrids, and added 20 of the vehicles to its self-driving test fleet in 2016. Ford is testing autonomous Fusion hybrids, and added 20 of the vehicles to its self-driving test fleet in 2016.
Ford is testing autonomous Fusion hybrids, and added 20 of the vehicles to its self-driving test fleet in 2016. Courtesy of Ford

Ford will begin testing autonomous vehicles in Europe next year as it races other automakers and tech companies to develop and commercialize the technology.

Ford made the announcement in Germany in conjunction with a survey it commissioned on European views about the future of autonomous vehicles. The survey, conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, asked consumers in France, Germany, Norway, Spain, and the UK how they would spend their time in a self-driving car. Of the 5,000 who were surveyed, 80% say they look forward to relaxing and enjoying the scenery, 72% expect to use that time to talk on the phone, and 64% plan to eat.

“People are really beginning to think about exactly what autonomous vehicles could mean to their day-to-day lives,” Thomas Lukaszewicz, manager of the automated driving unit at Ford of Europe, said in a statement. “Many of us neglect time for ourselves and for our loved ones in the face of other demands. Self-driving cars will revolutionize the way we live, as well as the way we travel.”

Ford has been testing its self-driving car technology at various locations in the U.S., including at its proving grounds in Romeo, Mich., Wittmann, Ariz., and at Mcity, a 23-acre simulated urban environment at the University of Michigan. Ford announced in January plans to add 20 Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles, bringing the company’s autonomous fleet to about 30 vehicles that are being tested on roads in California, Arizona, and Michigan. Ford enrolled in the California Autonomous Vehicle Testing Program last December, a program that already includes companies like Nissan, Volkswagen (VLKAY), and Google.

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“It is important that we extend our testing to Europe,” Lukaszewicz said. “Rules of the road vary from country to country here, traffic signs and road layouts are different, and drivers are likely to share congested roads with cyclists.”

Ford announced in August plans to make self-driving cars for commercial ride-sharing or on-demand taxi services by 2021. The company has said it’s focused on developing a fully autonomous vehicle, or Level 4, a classification by the Society of Automotive Engineers that means the car can handle all aspects of driving in some conditions or driving modes. For example, the cars may only operate under certain environmental conditions or a specific area within a city. It would be one step short of the highest rating, Level 5, when a car can handle all driving tasks in all road and environmental conditions normally controlled by a human.

Ford’s Venture Into Self-Driving Taxis

Self-driving cars are part of the company’s so-called Ford Smart Mobility plan, an initiative introduced nearly two years ago that involves building cars with additional Internet connectivity, experimenting with different forms of transportation such as car-sharing as well as using big data analytics like grabbing information from in-vehicle sensors to learn more about how people travel.