Self driving cars could be on Phoenix streets by summer

Ford Motor Company researchers are ramping up testing of autonomous vehicles in the Valley.

PHOENIX - On a nondescript downtown Phoenix street Ford Motor Company representatives gave an up close look at their latest piece of innovation -- what they refer to as an autonomous vehicle. 

"We started working in Autonomous Vehicles in 2004," one of Ford's lead researchers, Jim McBride said.

For the past few years, 10 specially modified Ford Fusions have put in countless hours and laps around test tracks in Michigan, Calif. and Wittman, Ariz.

Ford provided video to Phoenix-area news outlets from the Arizona Proving Ground showing a hands- free, safety driver driving seamlessly through various road features thanks to multiple onboard sensors and cameras. The four on top get the most attention.

"Basically, a sensor that emits a short burst of laser light and we wait for an echo to come back," McBride said.   "And we do that 3 million times a second. And from those echoes, we can construct a complete 3-D picture of the world around us," he said.

Ford's testing now heads from the track to traffic. They're confident their car has what it takes to keep drivers safe and get drivers where they need to go.

This, despite news from Google car researchers whose car was in a accident recently. That vehicle had difficulty navigating an active, road construction situation.

"Every time I've had someone ride in the car,  within five minutes, they've completely forgotten that a  computer is driving them around," McBride said. "And their next question is, 'When can I buy one?'"    

"No, no, not there yet. I definitely need a couple of test runs," Tom Toth said.

"By all means, I'm all for it, I think it's great," Angelic Passantino said.

Passantino is ready to hand the keys over to a computer, but a study in January 2016 by Triple AAA of America found that many drivers aren't ready to get behind this technology. Three out of four Americans said they're afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle.

"Probably a good note for manufacturers to know what kind of learning obstacle they need to overcome," AAA Arizona  spokesperson, Linda Gorman said. "They nee to make consumers feel confident, feel at ease, and trust these vehicles."

Ford said they plan on tripling their fleet of autonomous vehicles by summer 2016. So, when could we see fully, driverless cars? Ford said if they can get over the environmental and regulatory hurdles, perhaps by 2020.  

Copyright 2016 KPNX


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