Exploring How Smart Infrastructure Can Help Ford Build A Great Self-Driving Service for Miamians

By | March 31, 2021

By Tony Lockwood, Technical Manager, FutureTech, Ford Motor Company

A Ford self-driving test vehicle travels through Miami.

As Ford brings together a self-driving commercial business in Miami-Dade, the company is thinking about all the complex pieces needed to build its service. One of the most critical pieces is being built by our partner Argo AI: A robust self-driving system that will drive safely, fit in with the natural traffic flow and local driving behaviors and provide a great ride experience for customers.

Self-driving vehicles need to be prepared to navigate intersections, some of which can be particularly tricky with obstructed views due to buildings or street designs. That’s why, in Miami-Dade County, our autonomous vehicle research team at Ford is exploring how emerging technology like smart infrastructure can provide a self-driving vehicle with an extra layer of information before it even arrives at an intersection.

Researching smart infrastructure and self-driving vehicles: To set the groundwork for our new research in Miami-Dade County, Ford recently installed a new, Ford-designed infrastructure node at two intersections in Saline, Michigan. The node is equipped with sensors like radar, LiDAR and cameras and situated above the intersection, so it can offer a birds-eye view of the area to support a self-driving vehicle as it analyzes its surroundings at a street level. While it is not required for a Level 4 self-driving vehicle to operate safely, this sensor node can quickly relay even more information to a self-driving vehicle, providing additional context about the situation it’s about to encounter long before it approaches the intersection.

What Ford is researching in Miami-Dade County: In Miami Beach, we’ve now installed the same type of smart infrastructure node to communicate with our Ford and Argo AI self-driving test vehicles. We’re starting out by testing it at a particularly complex intersection in South Beach on Lincoln Road at Lenox Avenue, a popular outdoor mall full of shops and restaurants with a heavy flow of cars, pedestrians and bicycle traffic.

The intersection at Lincoln Road and Lennox Avenue in South Beach.

How this could benefit self-driving vehicle development: We want to understand how smart infrastructure could provide our self-driving vehicles with as much information as possible to navigate complex intersections. This could ultimately help customers by allowing us to expand service areas for our business.

The intersection at Lincoln Road and Lenox Avenue in Miami Beach is a narrow two-way street with buildings close to the crosswalk. Whether it’s due to road geometry or buildings close to the curb, complex intersections like this could minimize the sensor view of a self-driving vehicle — which is really difficult for human drivers to navigate. In cases like these, a smart node can provide a comprehensive view of the environment to the vehicle before it arrives at the intersection. The vehicle can then use this additional information in its decision-making process.

For example, if the vehicle sensors’ direct line of site is blocked due to a building close to the curb. A smart node could provide information about what is behind that building so that it’s aware of what’s in the environment well in advance and prepare accordingly.

But, what information is the node gathering? Our sensor node is not capturing any data that is personally identifiable. All data from the smart node is anonymized to ensure privacy is maintained. This work is part of an advanced research project and we are focused on the learnings for how this could potentially help create a great self-driving service.

The Ford approach — working collaboratively: The most important piece of our approach to building a self-driving service is to make sure we are working collaboratively with the cities and states in which we operate, to ensure we can co-create a vision for the future and share lessons learned. Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami Beach and the Florida Department of Transportation have been key collaborators in developing this research project and we will continue to work closely with them on this.

What Miami-Dade County is saying: Miami-Dade County’s Assistant Director of the Department of Transportation and Public Works, Carlos Cruz-Casas has been working with us since day one.

“Many have said Miami is the ‘next’ tech hub and we are no stranger to innovating and thinking about new ways for our city to move,” said Carlos Cruz-Casas. “Together with Ford over the last three years, we have been highly collaborative partners to ensure we safely launch self-driving services for Miamians.

“One part of this, is making sure we support their research and testing so that when commercial services come online, we provide an efficient and safe way for people to hail a ride or have orders delivered,” he added. “We have worked with Ford to ensure they have satisfied all approvals and permits necessary, and we are thrilled Ford chose Miami-Dade for this first-of-its-kind research.”

What’s Next: Ford is committed to launching a trusted commercial self-driving service in Miami-Dade in 2022. Our goal is to continue to test emerging technology, like the smart node, to ensure we provide a great experience for Miamians in the future.

Exploring How Smart Infrastructure Can Help Ford Build A Great Self-Driving Service for Miamians was originally published in Self-Driven on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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