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Step off the gas: Ford tests first self-driving car in Arizona

(Photo: Ford)
LISTEN: Ford starts testing self-driving cars in Arizona

PHOENIX — After years of failed attempts to produce the first self-driving vehicle, companies such as Google and Tesla are starting to take the idea to the streets — literally.

After Ford announced in February that it would be joining the ranks of other self-driving car producers, the company has begun testing the vehicles in Arizona.

Ford started testing a self-driving Fusion Hybrid in Wittman, Arizona, at its 1,500-acre Ford Arizona Proving Ground facility, the first test the company has performed in the state.

Jim McBride with Ford said the company has been working “diligently and steadfastly” to advance the self-driving technology.

Over the last decade, Ford has been conducting research to determine how cars are able to drive themselves with minimum to no help from a human driver.

Ford Global Manager Greg Stevens said the process involved transforming rules from expert drivers into algorithms.

“A lot of the driving rules that expert drivers use, they’re actually things that can be distilled into algorithms,” he said. “We can make the autonomous vehicle, have that knowledge.”

The car Ford is testing in Wittman has four infrared light sensors that scan the road at 2.5 million times per second to generate a real-time 3-D map of the surrounding environment.

“(The self-driving vehicle) can understand how to regain control of the vehicle in a situation that a typical driver wouldn’t know,” Stevens said.

Ford said it believes fully autonomous driving likely will be possible with the right combination of environmental and regulatory updates by 2020.

Despite the possibility of self-driving cars soon hitting the roads, Americans are weary of the technology. According to Triple-A, more than 75 percent of Americans are afraid to ride in an autonomous vehicle.

Consumer safety is a major concern for drivers and transportation safety advocates. Last month, a self-driving car tested by Google struck a public bus on a Silicon Valley street. It was the first accident caused by the autonomous car since Google began public testing in 2014.

As for Ford, it recently conducted the industry’s first autonomous vehicle tests in snow-covered environments at a 32-acre, simulated “real-world urban environment” at the University of Michigan.

“We eventually want our autonomous vehicles to detect deteriorating conditions, decide whether it’s safe to keep driving, and if so, for how long,” McBride said in a press release.

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