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Ford Announces Autonomous Fusion Hybrid Prototype

Lasers help Ford Fusion "see" obstacles.

Ford is keeping pace with several other major automakers and developing a self-driving car. The company announced today that it has a prototype Ford Fusion Hybrid that will be used to develop semi-autonomous and fully-autonomous cars.

Though it is based on a standard Ford Fusion Hybrid, the research car adds four infrared LIDAR sensors (the pods atop the car) that bounce invisible light off their surroundings to generate a three-dimensional computer map of everything within 200 feet of the car. Ford says the car's sensors can detect everything from animals to other cars, and that the LIDAR system is so sensitive it can, "sense the difference between a paper bag and a small animal at nearly a football field away."

Ford is working on the autonomous-car project with insurance company State Farm and the University of Michigan. The automaker says it hopes that self-driving cars will help further reduce the number of car accidents as computers help humans avoid driving mistakes; Ford points to existing technologies in its cars, like blind-spot warning, self-parking, or emergency braking, as the first step toward semi-autonomous cars.

"Automated driving may well help us improve driver safety and manage issues such as traffic congestion and global gridlock, yet there are still many questions that need to be answered," Ford global product development group vice president Raj Nair said in a statement. "Our goal is to test the limits of full automation and determine the appropriate levels for near- and mid-term deployment."

Given that this Fusion Hybrid is merely the first step in developing self-driving technology, Ford says that it expects such vehicles on public roads by 2025 or later. That's a far later deadline than set by some rivals. Volvo, for its part, will begin testing a fleet of 100 self-driving cars by 2017, and Nissan plans to launch an autonomous car by 2020.