Ford is officially part of the companies testing autonomous vehicles in California, a move that allows it to get its Ford Fusion Hybrids on public roads early next year, according to a statement it released on Tuesday. Test-driving will take place at its Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California, as well as at the Mcity, its 32-acre mock-city in Michigan, according to USA Today.
"We see a world where vehicles talk to one another, drivers and vehicles communicate with the city infrastructure to relieve congestion, and people routinely share vehicles or multiple forms of transportation for their daily commute," CEO Mark Fields said at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in January. "The experiments we're undertaking today will lead to an all-new model of transportation and mobility within the next 10 years and beyond."
The tests are another step in the Ford Smart Mobility program, a 10-year autonomous vehicle development program that the company has said focuses on big data, the customer experience and connectivity. It was initially announced at the 2015 Consumer Electrics Show, according to Ford's website. The new research lab opened that month.
"Having a strong presence in Silicon Valley allows us to further accelerate our research on a wide range of technologies, and apply our insights to create real-world mobility solutions," Ford vice president of research and advanced engineering Ken Washington said in the statement.
Ford has had a foot in Silicon Valley since 2012 but just recently expanded the research lab's staff from 15 to 100 employees, according to the statement.
Since January, the facility has worked on virtual test drives, sensor fusions to provide a 360-degree view of the environment surrounding the car, camera-based detection to sense pedestrians and data-driven healthcare like vaccine delivery.
Ford is one of many tech companies working on self-driving cars. In May 2014, Google announced its Texas-cruising autonomous vehicles. This past August, Apple was rumored to be meeting with the California Department of Motor Vehicles on the topic. And next door in Nevada, Kia Motors is testing its own eco-friendly, self-driving vehicles, Fortune reported.
The video below is a Ford self-driving test car: