Automakers have no intention of confining the ease, comfort and safety of self-piloted driving to paved urban roads. Last week the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Ford Global Technologies a patent for an off-road autonomous driving system. The feature – noted in the patent as not limited to pickups or traditional off-road vehicles – would size up an environmental obstacle like a ditch or a boulder field, and potentially traverse the obstacle without manual input.
Ford’s patent outlines a system utilizing wide-ranging sensor arrays and on-board data: cameras, radar, ultrasonic and height sensors, LIDAR, topographic maps, and rain and road-condition detectors, among others. First, the autonomous tech would decide if it could safely navigate an off-road challenge at all. If so, then it would determine if it could do so with passengers in the vehicle. If the system suspected a rollover risk beyond a certain safety threshold, the system would instruct the passengers to exit the vehicle. A “remote device” could enable some type of manual control while the driver watches the show from outside. Either manned or unmanned, the system would command variables such as an active suspension, body mounts, differentials, and individual wheel position via settings like “rock crawling” and “ground clearance avoidance” to get over the river and through the woods without harm.
If you think you’ve heard about this kind of driver assistance before, you have: Land Rover demonstrated its experiments with remote-controlled off-roading two years ago. Last year, Land Rover paraded its research into supplemental tech like Terrain-Based Speed Adaptation that registered road-level hazards such standing water, and Overhead Clearance Assist that scanned for potential damage from above.
With Ford intending it’s autonomous off-road system be suitable for “a van, a minivan, a taxi, a bus, etc,” now we countdown to the day when the Transit Connect gets a Rubicon rating. Although maybe the Bronco is the more likely target.
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