Ford Motor Co. is beefing up its use of cameras and expanding their roles. Imagers can help drivers peer around corners and help back up trailers in addition to basic functions like lane keeping.
Cameras were a central aspect of recent presentations at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, CA, which has grown to 125 team members. Ford plans to put more than two million cameras on the road in each of the next few years, with multiple imagers on many vehicles.
“The next F-Series Super Duty has up to seven cameras, which are linked using an all-new digital architecture,” said Jennifer Shaw, Driver Assistance Electronics Supervisor. “By 2020, we’ll offer front cameras on the majority of our vehicles by volume.”
A split-view camera that displays a 180-degree view is being rolled out on the 2015 Edge and 2016 Explorer. Forward- and rear-view cameras with the feature look to the sides to help drivers see oncoming vehicles that are blocked from their view, for example when they’re parked next to a large vehicle. It only operates at low speeds, when vehicles are backing up or pulling out of a parking space.
The split-view cameras are equipped with a washer that telescopes out to spray water when the lens is dirty. As cameras perform more tasks, keeping them clean will become a critical issue.
“Keeping cameras clean is still a problem to be solved,” said James Buczkowski, Director of Global Electrical and Electronics Systems Engineering at Ford Motor Co. “Fully autonomous driving is still a fair weather technology.”
Shaw noted that automotive-grade cameras require 1-megapixel resolution, well below the 10-20 megapixel available in consumer units.
Ford is also working on additional applications for cameras. The 2016 F-150 uses the rear-view camera to add a pro trailer backup assist function.
When trailers are identified with checkered stickers mounted on the trailer tongue, the camera feeds information to a system that lets drivers steer the trailer using a joystick. The vehicle turns itself as the driver positions the trailer. Another system uses the backup camera to help drivers maneuver vehicles when they’re hooking up trailers.
While camera deployment is soaring, other technologies will augment these visual sensors. Imagers aren’t expected to displace technologies such as ultrasonic sensors.
“We still see great value in ultrasonic sensors,” Shaw said. “Cameras may eventually replace them, but inexpensive proximity sensors work in all weather conditions and at night.”
These proximity sensors may find additional uses that will help justify their usage. Ford researchers are working with the University of Georgia in a project that repurposes ultrasonic sensors to help spot open parking spaces.
As cars drive past parking spaces, these sensors detect whether vehicles are in parking spaces. When they identify unoccupied spots, they send information to cloud servers that tell other drivers where open parking is available. The goal is to trim costs over other real-time parking spot data techniques such as video cameras on poles and sensors in floors.