The Latest Developments in Autonomous Driving

Colin Pawsey

This month’s Auto Tech Update will return to a favourite subject - autonomous driving - as Ford, Google, and a Volkswagen-led consortium have all announced further research and development in recent months.

Ford partnership with MIT and Stanford University

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Source: Ford Motor Company

Earlier this year Ford Motor Company announced that it is partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University, to research the technical challenges surrounding the future of autonomous driving. The teams will use Ford’s recently unveiled Fusion Hybrid research vehicle, which utilises four Lidar sensors to generate a real-time 3D map of the vehicle’s surroundings.

The aim of the research is to develop a system which gives the vehicle a human level of intuition when it comes to assessing and adapting to visual clues in its immediate environment. The research team at MIT will focus on developing sophisticated algorithms for systems which can predict the actions of other cars and pedestrians around the vehicle, so that it can navigate a safe path around any potential risks. While the researchers at Stanford will focus on sensors which can ‘see around’ obstructions, to assist with driving manoeuvres and improve safety.

Ford says it expects fully automated driving by 2025, and will continue to invest in new technologies and partnerships as part of its ‘Blueprint for Mobility’.

Volkswagen-led consortium begins ‘AdaptIVe’ research project

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Source: Volkswagen

Also at the beginning of 2014, a Volkswagen-led consortium of 29 partners commenced work on a European research project ‘AdaptIVe’, to develop features for automated driving. To give the project its full title, the Automated Driving Applications & Technologies for Intelligent Vehicles, is underway at the MobileLifeCampus in Wolfsburg, Germany, and aims to achieve breakthrough advances that will lead to more efficient and safe automated driving.

The project will last for 42 months, during which time the partners will develop and test new functionalities for cars and trucks, offering both partially automated and highly automated driving on motorways, in urban scenarios, and for close-distance manoeuvres.

The research will include the use of on-board sensors, and also incorporate other technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. The focus of the project will be on achieving ideal cooperative interaction between the driver and the automated system by taking advantage of these technologies, as well as adaptive strategies in which the level of automation is dynamically adapted to the situation and the driver’s status.

The consortium consists of several European manufacturers, including BMW, Fiat, Daimler, Peugeot Citroen, Volvo, Renault, and Ford Research and Advanced Engineering Europe. Many of these partners were involved in a similar project which finished in 2011, the Highly Autonomous Vehicles for Intelligent Transport (HAVEit) project, which paved the way for some of the semi-autonomous systems available in cars today. It will be interesting to follow this latest research as it unfolds to see what innovations the European heavyweights come up with next.

Google self-driving cars mastering city streets

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Source: Google

Meanwhile, Google has released details of further development to its software, which has helped its fleet of self-driving cars navigate city streets full of typical obstructions such as pedestrians, road works, cyclists, delivery trucks, and railway crossings.

The software has been developed to the point where it can now detect and recognise hundreds of different objects simultaneously and react accordingly. Google have demonstrated, for example, how the self-driving car can spot a cyclist with an outstretched arm and detect this as a signal that the cyclist is about to turn. The car will yield and give way to the cyclist as necessary to avoid collision. They have also shown how the car can navigate its way through temporary, unexpected construction zones, and how it can keep track of multiple traffic flows, cyclists and pedestrians at intersections, to determine when it is safe to move away.

Google say that as their engineers gain experience and knowledge they are able to build more complex software models of what to expect, and thus are able to ‘teach’ the car how to react in a vast number of different circumstances. The self-driving cars have now clocked up over 700,000 miles autonomously, and the recent software advances have allowed them to navigate thousands of situations on city streets that just wouldn’t have been possible as little as two years ago.


Autonomous driving is arguably the most exciting development in the automotive industry today, and it is thrilling to see ever more manufacturers, research institutes, and technology companies investing in research and development. This is the one concept that more than any other will change the face of transportation as we know it, and here at Auto Tech Update we simply can’t wait to see what’s next, as development continues to gather pace.


Google blog

Volkswagen info centre

Ford blog

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