Photo of Fusion Hybrid sedan courtesy of Ford.

Photo of Fusion Hybrid sedan courtesy of Ford.

Fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid sedans will begin driving on California public streets next year, as the Ford Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto team continues to advance Ford's ambitious "smart mobility plan."

Ford is now officially enrolled in the California Autonomous Vehicle Testing Program, the automaker has announced. The testing is part of Ford's 10-year autonomous vehicle development program and a key element of Ford Smart Mobility, the automaker's plan to take the company to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and data and analytics.

Ford Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto is one of the largest automotive manufacturer research centers in the region, with a team of more than 100 researchers, engineers and scientists. The research lab opened in January, expanding Ford's presence in Silicon Valley that began in 2012.

Eighty percent of the Palo Alto team joined Ford from the technology sector. The remaining 20 percent include Ford employees from the U.S., China, Germany and Australia. 

Ford has expanded its Silicon Valley facility from a 15-person office to a 100-plus-person research and development center. Research the lab has conducted this past year includes:

  • Autonomous vehicle virtual test drive — This study allows virtual interaction between an autonomous car and pedestrians, replicating real-world situations to better understand and develop responses to some of the unexpected things that can happen on the road.
  • Sensor fusion — Sensors on autonomous vehicles detect and track objects in the vehicle's view, fusing information together to provide a 360-degree view of the car's surroundings including street signs, other vehicles, even pedestrians.
  • Camera-based pedestrian detection — Camera sensors serve as the eyes of a vehicle, allowing the car to "see" and sense pedestrians.
  • Data-driven health care — Through data collection from Ranger pickups and motorcycles outfitted with OpenXC technology, Ford is working with Riders for Health to collect GPS data and mapping coordinates to make health care, vaccines and medication delivery to people throughout rural Africa more efficient and accessible.

Ford said it has cultivated several relationships with top universities this year, including the University of California-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Santa Clara and San Jose State.

Additionally, the company is further expanding its strategic research collaboration with Stanford University in 2016, planning 13 projects covering all five areas of Ford Smart Mobility. That's more than double the number of collaborations this year.