A rather unexpected problem has been discovered by Ford, as the company continues testing its autonomous vehicles. Apparently, the self-driving cars run so smoothly that the Blue oval firm’s engineers are dozing off.
Researchers, part of the team developing autonomous technologies, have tried to keep them awake by installing different alarms, buzzers, and warning lights – and even vibrating seats and shaking steering wheels. What’s more, they’ve even added a second engineer in the cabin, but with no luck.
“These are trained engineers who are there to observe what’s happening,” Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief, told BloombergTechnology in a recent interview. “But it’s human nature that you start trusting the vehicle more and more and that you feel you don’t need to be paying attention.”
In attempt to solve the problem, Ford has taken a radical decision – the automaker will skip a level in the development process and will push directly to Level 4/5 of autonomy. On a scale defined by the U.S. government, Level 3 stands for semi-autonomous cars, where drivers are required to take over with as little as 10 seconds notice. Level 4 and 5 autonomy mean the vehicle is fully autonomous and takes care of “all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip."
Earlier this month, Ford announced it will invest $1 billion into robotics and artificial intelligence startup Argo AI. In the next five years, engineers and specialists from the manufacturer will be integrated into the firm, where the artificial intelligence software platform for future fully autonomous vehicles will be developed. Ford’s major plan is to launch a vehicle with no steering wheel and gas or brake pedals in 2021. Customer sales are expected to begin in 2025.
The latest generation of Ford’s autonomous Fusion vehicle was revealed earlier this year, featuring new and better lidar units, cameras, and radars, monitoring objects up to 600 yards (549 meters) away.