A hands-free, eyes-off driver assist system is the primary focus.
Ford has announced the establishment of Latitude AI, a wholly-owned subsidiary whose first mission is to develop a hands-free, eyes-off-the-road automated driving system.
A total of 550 employees have been hired, all previously employed by Argo AI, the now-defunct self-driving startup Ford co-operated with Volkswagen. Their specialties include machine learning, robotics, software, sensors, systems engineering, and test operations. Latitude AI's primary goal is to expand automated driving systems.
Ford currently has the BlueCruise hands-free driving system, and it wasn't made clear how Latitude AI will be involved in the system's ongoing development. The subsidiary will not create technologies to replace the driver but rather new methods to make driving easier with continued human involvement.
"We see automated driving technology as an opportunity to redefine the relationship between people and their vehicles," said Doug Field, Ford's chief advanced product development and technology officer. "Customers using BlueCruise are already experiencing the benefits of hands-off driving. The deep experience and talent in our Latitude team will help us accelerate the development of all-new automated driving technology - with the goal of not only making travel safer, less stressful, and more enjoyable but, ultimately, over time, giving our customers some of their day back."
Like Argo AI, Latitude AI will be based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and additional offices will be in Palo Alto, California, and Dearborn, Michigan. A highway-speed test track will also open in Greenville, South Carolina.
Like many automakers, Ford has concluded that full self-driving, rated at Level 5, is still years away though Mercedes' chief technology officer said earlier this week he believes Level 4 will be attainable by decade's end. BlueCruise is rated at Level 2, just like Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, and GM's SuperCruise.
Presently, only the Mustang Mach-E, F-150, F-150 Lightning, and Expedition are available with BlueCruise. One of Latitude AI's stated missions is to expand this vehicle list for the next generation of Ford vehicles.
Some of BlueCruise's capabilities, aside from hands-free driving, include lane-change assist, predictive speed assist, and in-lane positioning. Ford points out that the average American driver spends almost 100 hours every year stuck in traffic. The new subsidiary aims to develop automated driving tech to make traffic jams less stressful.
Ford appears to have learned a lesson following Argo AI's demise in that drivers are not wild about the idea of fully automated driving. They still want to maintain some level of control. This was backed up by a recent AAA survey that revealed Americans are concerned about self-driving technology. Advanced driver assist systems are currently the best approach, Ford believes.
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