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Ford to test next-generation autonomous cars in Detroit

Ford Motor Co. announced Wednesday that its next-generation self-driving cars will soon be rolling around the streets of Detroit and its Corktown neighborhood.

Argo AI, Ford’s autonomous vehicle arm, said in a press release that Detroit will only see the new third-generation Ford Fusion Hybrid. Older models have already been tested in Pittsburgh, Palo Alto, Miami and Washington, D.C.

The new models, according to the company, are a step closer to being on the production line. They include a “significantly upgraded sensor suite” as well as a new radar system and cameras with higher resolution and higher dynamic range.

“When trying to see an object that’s very far away, a lower-resolution camera may only be able to represent it as a pixel or two,” Argo said. “But with higher resolution, you may be able to get a dozen pixels out of the same faraway object. In concert with upgraded software, this means our vehicles are getting better at seeing what’s farther ahead and classifying what it is.”

On top of that, the software in the car now has much more processing power to use than the older models. There’s also an improved thermal management system that helps reduce heat and noise inside the vehicle. Ford said the car is now much smarter than before and also a more pleasant place to sit inside.

Ford added that Detroit seemed like the perfect place to test the cars, seeing as “Motor City” is currently in a revitalization period. “Bringing these vehicles to Detroit gives us the opportunity to learn how they operate in yet another environment — one where we have engineering operations in close proximity and where Corktown serves as Ford’s base for self-driving vehicle development,” the company said.

Word on the street for awhile now is that Ford is about to partner with Volkswagen AG, with the latter ready to pump about $1.7 billion into the Argo AI autonomous vehicle unit. Meanwhile, VW and its partnership with the Amazon-backed startup, Aurora Innovation Inc., is no more.

But Aurora announced today that its partner Hyundai Motor Group, which includes Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., invested in its Series B financing round. The amount Hyundai invested was reported by TechCrunch to be less than $30 million. Aurora announced in February that it had raised more than $530 million in a Series B round led by Sequoia Capital and including “significant investment” from Inc. and T. Rowe Price Associates and others, reportedly valuing it at more than $2.5 billion.

“Our talks with Volkswagen continue,” Ford said this week about the possibility the automotive giants teaming up. “Discussions have been productive across a number of areas.”

Photo: Argo AI

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