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Ford Robocar to Ford Engineers: Wake Up!

Ford decides to skip Level 3 autonomy because its own engineers fall asleep during test drives

1 min read
man napping with head against steering wheel
Photo: iStockphoto

The Ford Motor Company is skipping Level 3 autonomy—when the driver must be prepared to take the wheel—and going straight to Level 4, when there is no steering wheel at all. The reason? Its own engineers were falling asleep during Level 3 test drives.

“These are trained engineers who are there to observe what’s happening,” Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief, told Automotive News. “But it’s human nature that you start trusting the vehicle more and more and that you feel you don’t need to be paying attention.”

Apparently, the Ford engineers kept nodding off even when every attempt was made to keep them on their toes. Bells and alarms did no good, nor did putting in a second engineer to ride shotgun. He nodded off, too. It was this spectacle that convinced Ford honchos to double down on the damn-the-stopgap push to full autonomy, which Google’s Waymo pioneered.

Previously, Ford had leaned toward that idea, but hedged its bets by trying to improve driver-assistance systems until they achieved full autonomy. Just six months ago, Randal Visintainer, director for autonomous vehicle development at Ford, told IEEE Spectrum that both approaches—which he termed “top down” and “bottom up”—were still under review. “The question is, how far down can we take that [first approach], and when do the two approaches meet?”

Other automakers still favor using the stopgap of Level 3, defined as a self-driving system that might, at any moment, give the driver just 10 seconds to wake up and take command. Just last month, at CES, Audi announced that it would release a Level 3 car within a year, then aim for Level 4 some three years later.

Ten seconds may seem like plenty of time, but it sure seems short when you’re dreaming.

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Chinese Joint Venture Will Begin Mass-Producing an Autonomous Electric Car

With the Robo-01, Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely aim for a fully self-driving car

4 min read
A black car sits against a white backdrop decorated with Chinese writing. The car’s doors are open, like a butterfly’s wings. Two charging stations are on the car’s left; two men stand on the right.

The Robo-01 autonomous electric car shows off its butterfly doors at a reveal to the media in Beijing, in June 2022.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters/Alamy

In October, a startup called Jidu Automotive, backed by Chinese AI giant Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely, officially released an autonomous electric car, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition. In 2023, the car will go on sale.

At roughly US $55,000, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition is a limited edition, cobranded with China’s Lunar Exploration Project. It has two lidars, a 5-millimeter-wave radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and 12 high-definition cameras. It is the first vehicle to offer on-board, AI-assisted voice recognition, with voice response speeds within 700 milliseconds, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8295 chip.

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