Autonomous

One year in, here's how Ford's Austin, Texas autonomous drive program is going

Ford continues to test self-driving vehicles in Austin, Texas.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company approached the end of 2019 with a sense of optimism for the future. They had just unveiled the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E and the hotly-anticipated debuts of the new Ford Bronco, Bronco Sport, and redesigned F-150 were on the immediate horizon.

Between then and now, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and Ford Motor Company switched CEOs. All the while, the automaker has been testing autonomous vehicle technology in Austin, Texas.

The company has made strides in the last year, which Kathleen Baireuther, Austin Market Manager, Ford Autonomous recently detailed the progress of the company in a blog post on Medium.

Ford Austin Texas Autonomous Self-Driving Ford expanded its self-driving vehicle operations to Austin lat year. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford has opened an autonomous vehicle terminal in East Austin and created a command near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, in close proximity to where Tesla recently began constructing the plant that will produce its Cybertruck. The terminal serves as a base for the self-driving test fleet.

Baireuther sees the proper maintenance of the fleet as a part of creating a service that people value, from the use of the models to the deep cleaning and maintenance. When the service is used, the fleet grows closer to making a profit. She shared, "We recently completed the first phase of a fleet operations pilot in Austin that will be utilized for our business in Austin and Ford's broader strategy."

The command center will serve as the "epicenter" of Ford's self-driving business and daily operations. It will house local customer relations, business development, research, safety evaluations and testing operations.

The company continues to be focused on safety. While stories of owners continually trusting their hands-on Tesla AutoPilot technology to drive their vehicles hands-free, Ford and other companies are cognizant of ensuring their test vehicles work within a set of limitations to ensure safety for passengers and those inhabiting the space surrounding the vehicle.

Part of keeping everyone safe is helping vehicles and their operators understand the parameters for use. This includes the landscape. Ford has partnered with Argo to create 3D maps of the streets where the vehicles are used including detailed information about lane geometry, sidewalk locations, bike lanes, traffic signals, street signs, speed limits and static landmarks.

These maps are updated when construction or foliage changes. In Austin, a city that is rapidly expanding and changing, these changes are frequent.

Following the mapping process, the Argo team began operating the vehicles on public roads in autonomous modes. This means confronting the construction changes but also the daily scenarios that conflict with autonomous operation. For instance, Austin has more scooter activity than Ford has encountered in its other test cities - Washington D.C. and Miami, Florida. There's also a good amount of pedestrians and cyclists.

Ford is committed to continuing its self-driving vehicle testing in various areas of the city including East Austin, South Congress, and downtown, including the University of Texas.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Ford F-Series Super Duty is a potent pickup.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

For many, a pickup truck is as much a daily drivable vehicle as it is a tool for getting the job done. How much horsepower and torque a powertrain puts out is a big part of that. Most want enough to get the job done while keeping an eye toward fuel economy.

What's the difference between horsepower and torque? In simple terms, torque is the pull of the powertrain that gets you off the line from a full stop. Horsepower is what gets you going the speed you want and keeps you there.

Diesel engines tend to have more torque than gasoline-powered engines but have less horsepower. There's no perfect torque to horsepower ratio. It's all about which combination works best for you.

The engines on this list have the highest amount of horsepower and are available in 2021 model year pickup trucks in the U.S. See the 2020 horsepower champs by clicking here and the 2020 torque winners by clicking here.

No. 5 (tie) - 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500: 6.2-liter V8

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Seven different engines are available in the 2021 Silverado 1500 range, any of which provides strong payload and towing capabilities. The range-topping gas engine is the real showstopper, however, as the 6.2-liter V8 makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers are good enough to help the truck deliver a 13,300-pound towing capacity and a 2,060-pound payload rating.

No. 5 (tie) - 2021 GMC Sierra 1500: 6.2-liter V8

2021 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Carbon Pro

Photo courtesy of GMC

Like its Chevy brother, the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 has an available 6.2-liter V8 that achieves 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. It has a 2,000-pound payload rating and a 11,800-pound trailering capacity.

No. 4 - 2021 Ford F-150: PowerBoost hybrid powertrain

2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

430 horsepower

Ford's brand-new hybrid F-150 hits the market in 2021 and will bring some legitimate power numbers to back up its high-tech fuel system. The PowerBoost hybrid powertrain uses a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 with electric motors to produce a strong 430 horsepower and 570 pound-feet of torque.

No. 3 (tie) - 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD: 6.6-liter Duramax diesel

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

445 horsepower

Diesel engines are usually best known for their torque delivery, but Chevrolet is offering a 6.6-liter Duramax diesel in the 2021Silverado 2500 HD that defies the tradition. It makes 445 horsepower and a whopping 910 pound-feet of torque, which allows the Chevy truck to tow up to 18,500 in certain configurations.

No. 3 (tie) - 2021 GMC Sierra 2500 HD: 6.6-liter Duramax diesel

2021 GMC Sierra 2500 HD\u200b

Photo courtesy of GMC

445 horsepower

The engine in the GMC Sierra 2500 HD is the same as in the Silverado 2500 HD. It produces the same 445 horsepower and 910 pound-feet of torque from the 6.6-liter Duramax diesel that's paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. It can tow up to 18,150 pounds.

No. 2 - 2021 Ford F-Series Super Duty: 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8

2021 Ford F-Series Super Duty

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

475 horsepower

The 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8 that powers the top-of-the-line trucks in Ford's F-Series Super Duty lineup produces 475 horsepower, but that's not even the most special thing about it. The Blue Oval has built a diesel engine to dominate the towing and payload wars, and as a result it produces 475 horsepower and 1,050 pound-feet of torque.

No. 1 - 2021 Ram 1500 TRX: 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

702 horsepower

There's no competition here. The Ram 1500 TRX is far and away the most powerful truck on the market today – or any other day, for that matter. The 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8 that powers the 2021 TRX produces 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque, and makes the Ram the most powerful and fastest mass-produced truck in the world. All of that power helps the truck deliver an 8,100-pound towing capacity and a zero to 60 mph time of just 4.5 seconds.

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The new Safety Insights software takes away time delays and legwork issues surrounding traffic issue solution responsiveness.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Henry Ford opened his first Canadian operation in 1904 just over the boarder from Detroit in the City of Windsor, Ontario. Today, the town is the country's first Canadian customer for Ford's Safety Insights platform. The platform, a new software tool the company is rolling out connects government workers with vehicle insights that give them an in-depth look at their city's streets without having to step outside the door of their office.

Safety Insights utilizes artificial intelligence, machine learning, and algorithms to deliver crash reduction predictions that can be explored using simulations and deep data dives without having to deploy any human resources to comb through police reports, send public works employees to sit at an intersection all day to investigate, or wait for calls from concerned citizens to come pouring in.

Ford Safety Insights software The Safety Insights software allows users to run simulations based on real traffic data.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford Safety Insights software

The data comes from Ford vehicles, simulations, and predictions that city planners and public works officials make by running simulations. The data taken from vehicles includes indicators of crash trends like harsh braking, traction control issues, and near misses. These numbers help give context to traditional crash data.

Safety Insights also integrates multi-modal traffic volume data from StreetLight Data.

Traditionally, cities use transportation data to identify traffic issues, but combing through it can be a costly and time-consuming process, according to Ford. With the combination of crash data and available simulation predictions, the Safety Insights system takes analysis and planning to the next level, allowing them to test new options for traffic flow and make more informed decisions.

Users can comb through the data, layer by layer, filtering by type of collision, including those involving pedestrians and cyclists, rear-end crashes, or rush hour collisions. The results are available in seconds rather than the days or weeks it would traditionally take.

The simulations run by the software include the impact of a crosswalk or bike line on traffic flow, or what adjusting signal timing would look like.

Ford isn't just offering Safety Insights to Canadian customers. U.S. municipalities are allowed to purchase it as well.

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