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Testing out Ford's autonomous vehicles

Ford's autonomous test vehicle in downtown Miami.
Ford's autonomous test vehicle in downtown Miami. Photo: Ford

This week I traveled to Miami for some seat time in Ford's autonomous test vehicles. I rode in 3 separate Ford Fusions, each with a different pair of safety drivers up front.

Details: The AV's safety drivers kept their hands and feet ready to react, but only once did they opt to take control.

  • At about 20 mph, the car was starting to change lanes to the right but aborted when it detected another car traveling up from behind at a higher speed.
  • It moved back into the current lane and let the other car pass on the right.
  • The driver then took control to execute a quick double-lane change to stay on the intended route.

Ford and its AV tech partner, Argo AI, are trying to master "naturalistic driving" — which means not being overly cautious so as to annoy other drivers. The cars mostly succeeded.

  • In one instance, the AV had to make an unprotected left turn across two lanes of heavy traffic.
  • The car waited for a natural gap to turn left, leaving just enough space for two more aggressive drivers to cut in front from the right, nosing into oncoming traffic.
  • It then waited until it was safe to turn, but then had to stop in the middle of the intersection to let pedestrians cross.
  • Behind us, a Miami driver laid on the horn.
  • The car? It was unfazed.

The bottom line: Miami's streets can be hectic and confusing, between random lane jogs, construction detours and occasional flash floods not to mention jaywalking tourists and wrong-way bicyclists. But all tests were relaxing, uneventful experiences, which says a lot about how close we're getting to the driverless car era.

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