Ford Motor Co. was widely expected to announce an autonomous-vehicle production deal with Google during the 2016 CES in Las Vegas. Instead, Ford CEO Mark Fields revealed that his company has begun evaluating a new, smaller-size LiDAR that will help enable vehicle autonomy at SAE Levels 4 and 5. Ford claims this is the first LiDAR capable of supporting fully autonomous ADAS (automated driver assistance system) performance.
Ford will equip its expanding fleet of 30 Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles with the new 32-channel Hybrid Ultra Puck solid-state LiDAR sensors supplied by Velodyne Acoustics Inc. during early 2016, Fields said. The vehicles will be tested on the road in Arizona, California, and Michigan. The third-generation sensor—resembling a stack of two hockey pucks—is significantly more compact than current-generation, cylindrical form-factor HDL-32E LiDAR units.
According to Fields, it is small enough (thanks to its solid-state architecture) to be mounted on the exterior mirrors while extending the 3D sensing range to 200 m (656 ft) — about twice that of the incumbent technology.
And Ford’s CEO is equally excited about the Ultra Puck’s price. Velodyne has set target pricing of less than $500 per unit in automotive mass production quantities—a significant cost reduction from the $7900 per unit of Velodyne’s previous compact LiDAR champ, the VLP-16 (16 channel) Puck that weighs 800 g (1.76 lb).
While Velodyne has not yet released a specifications sheet for the Ultra Puck, a Ford engineer on the Fusion Hybrid autonomous test program told Automotive Engineering that the new LiDAR will have greater 3D mapping capability than the VLP-16, which is capable of measuring 300,000 points per second in a 360° horizontal field of vision (FOV), and ± 15° vertical FOV, according to Velodyne. Power consumption will be equal to or less than the 12W rating of the HDL-32E.
Last November, Ford became the first OEM to test an autonomous vehicle at the University of Michigan’s Mcity, the world's first full-scaled simulated urban environment. Ford’s autonomous test fleet is in the advanced-engineering stage, according to CTO Raj Nair. The company expects to introduce an autonomous production vehicle by 2020.