From Autonomy to Snowtonomy: How Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle Can Navigate in Winter

DEARBORN, Mich.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Driving in snow can be a slippery challenge, with the potential for one
blizzardy gust to white-out your field of view – a situation faced by
the majority of people in the United States. So if self-driving cars are
to become a reality – and they almost certainly will – they must be able
to navigate snow-covered roads. In its quest to bring self-driving
vehicles to millions of people around the world, Ford reveals six facts
about its technology that
allows for a car to drive itself in snow

  1. Mapping the way: Ford first creates high-resolution 3D maps using
    LiDAR technology to scan the area its autonomous vehicle will later
    drive in the snow.

    To operate in snow, Ford Fusion Hybrid
    autonomous vehicles first need to scan the environment to create
    high-resolution 3D digital maps. By driving the test route in ideal
    weather, the Ford autonomous vehicle creates highly accurate digital
    models of the road and surrounding infrastructure using four LiDAR
    scanners that generate a total of 2.8 million laser points a second.
    The resulting map then serves as a baseline that’s used to identify
    the car’s position when driving in autonomous mode. Using the LiDAR
    sensors to scan the environment in real time, the car can locate
    itself within the mapped area later, when the road is covered in snow.
  2. Better have an unlimited data plan: Ford’s autonomous vehicles
    collect and process significantly more mapping data in an hour than
    the average person uses in mobile-phone data in 10 years.

    mapping their environment, Ford autonomous vehicles collect and
    process a diverse set of data about the road and surrounding landmarks
    – signs, buildings, trees and other features. All told, the car
    collects up to 600 gigabytes per hour, which it uses to create a
    high-resolution 3D map of the landscape. In the United States, the
    average subscriber of a cellular data plan uses about 21.6 gigabytes
    per year, for a 10-year total of 216 gigabytes.
  3. Super smart sensors: Ford uses LiDAR sensors that are so powerful,
    they can even identify falling snowflakes and raindrops.

    autonomous vehicles generate so many laser points from the LiDAR
    sensors that some can even bounce off falling snowflakes or raindrops,
    returning the false impression that there’s an object in the way. Of
    course, there’s no need to steer around precipitation, so Ford –
    working with University of Michigan researchers – created an algorithm
    that recognizes snow and rain, filtering them out of the car’s vision
    so it can continue along its path.
  4. Not your average navigation: The way Ford’s autonomous vehicles
    identify their location is more accurate than GPS.

    When you
    think about vehicle navigation, GPS usually comes to mind. But where
    current GPS is accurate to just more than 10 yards, autonomous
    operation requires precise vehicle location. By scanning their
    environment for landmarks, then comparing that information to the 3D
    digital maps stored in their databanks, Ford’s autonomous vehicles can
    precisely locate themselves to within a centimeter.
  5. No need for glasses: Sensor fusion – the combination of data from
    multiple sensors – plus smart monitoring of sensor health help keep
    Ford’s autonomous vehicles out of the blind.

    In addition to
    LiDAR sensors, Ford uses cameras and radar to monitor the environment
    around the vehicle, with the data generated from all of those sensors
    fused together in a process known as sensor fusion. This process
    results in robust 360-degree situational awareness. Sensor fusion
    means that one inactive sensor – perhaps caused by ice, snow, grime or
    debris buildup on a sensor lens – does not necessarily hinder
    autonomous driving. Still, Ford autonomous vehicles monitor all LiDAR,
    camera and radar systems to identify the deterioration of sensor
    performance, which helps keep sensors in ideal working order.
    Eventually, the cars might be able to handle ice and grime buildup
    themselves through self-cleaning or defogging measures.
  6. Look Mom, no hands: The first person behind the wheel of a
    demonstrated autonomy test in snow is an astrophysics major who never
    dreamed he’d be in a self-driving car.

    Before Wayne Williams
    joined Ford’s autonomy team, he worked on remote sensing technology on
    behalf of the federal government. A self-described “geek,” Williams
    was intrigued by autonomous vehicles. But he never envisioned one day
    being part of a team working to bring them to reality – let alone
    being behind the wheel of the auto industry’s first publicly
    demonstrated autonomous snow test. The mood in the car that day was
    all business, he recalls, with a coworker monitoring the computing
    system from the back seat. “Because of the extensive development work,
    we were confident the car would do exactly what we asked of it,” says
    Williams. “But it wasn’t until after the test that the achievement
    began to sink in.”

Ford is the first automaker to publicly demonstrate autonomous vehicle
operation in the snow. The
company’s winter weather road testing
takes place in Michigan,
including at Mcity – a 32-acre, real-world driving environment at the
University of Michigan. Ford’s testing on this full-scale simulated
urban campus is aimed at supporting the company’s mission to learn about
and advance the emerging field of autonomous driving.

About Ford Motor Company

Motor Company
is a global automotive and mobility company
based in Dearborn, Michigan. With about 199,000 employees and 67 plants
worldwide, the company’s core business includes designing,
manufacturing, marketing, financing and servicing a full line of Ford
cars, trucks, SUVs and electrified vehicles, as well as Lincoln luxury
vehicles. At the same time, Ford is aggressively pursuing emerging
opportunities through Ford Smart Mobility, the company’s plan to be a
leader in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer
experience, and data and analytics. For more information regarding Ford,
its products worldwide or Ford Motor Credit Company, visit

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Ford Motor Company
Alan Hall