During his presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Ford CEO Mark Fields said his company would use a new light and radar sensing device (LiDAR) developed by Silicon Valley technology company Velodyne to make its self driving cars the best in the world. The biggest feature of the Velodyne device is its small size. Previously, Google and others have used LiDAR devices that look like the gumball machines found on the roofs of police cars in the 60s’. Velodyne’s device is small enough to mount on the side view mirrors of a car but powerful enough to “see” 200 meters farther than previous LiDAR devices.
According to The Verge, the new sensor has been dubbed the “Ultra Puck.” Fields told his audience that it is “elegant in design, but will make a huge impact in advanced autonomous technology.” The Ultra Puck will allow self driving cars to create a real-time 3 dimensional map of their surroundings. The Velodyne device will enhance Ford’s software development and testing and allow it to handle a broader range of driving scenarios.
Ford currently has 10 autonomous driving cars on the road in California, Arizona and Michigan. It plans to increase the size of its testing fleet to 30 cars this year by equipping several Ford Fusion Hybrid sedans with the Velodyne LiDAR sensors. For its part, Tesla Motors does not use LiDAR sensors extensively, preferring to rely on cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors. Elon Musk has said he is “not a big fan of LiDAR.” He might have reason to change his mind if the Velodyne Ultra Puck is as good as Ford says it is.
One thing Mark Fields was expected to do at CES this year but did not was to announce a partnership between itself and Google to build self driving cars. We reported that story last week and were reminded by readers that it was just an unconfirmed rumor. As of this moment, it remains just that, an unconfirmed rumor. Fields did hint there was more news coming about new technology and partnerships, but did not specifically mention Google by name.