Ford is doing what its founder, Henry Ford, lived to do: making a rich man's toy into a working man's tool.
Ford says it will offer a pedestrian-sensing system in its Mondeo sedan, beginning in Europe in the coming model year. It uses a camera on the windshield and a radar sensor near the bumper—a minimalist approach but one that works well, at least when the light and the weather are decent.
That’s a fabulous first step for a car with a starting price of a little over €27,000, or roughly US $35,000.
Compare that to the cost-be-damned approach behind the Google Car, which has a rotating laser rangefinder that costs twice as much as a Mondeo. Or to the cost-be-darned Mercedes-Benz S Class, which is festooned with multiple radars and cameras and costs 2.6 times as much as a Mondeo.
In a press release, Ford said it took the system out on roads around the world. “This real-world testing was an important part of the development, because pedestrians in an urban setting can present a wide range of potential situations,” said Scott Lindstrom, who heads up the companies driver-assist research.
Ford’s collision-avoidance system doesn’t tell the driver what to do—at least not right away. It gives a warning, through a flashing light and a sound. If the driver doesn’t respond, then the car takes over, either avoiding a collision or mitigating the effects of one. All manufacturers are following the same course in order to keep the driver in the loop, as they say. It also keeps the liability squarely on the driver’s shoulders.
Here's Ford's demonstration of the technology:
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.