Have you ever come upon a dangerous obstacle while off-roading with friends or family, and the only way you feel comfortable forging onward is if everyone exits the vehicle incase of a rollover? Soon enough even you, the driver, will be able to exit your vehicle while it traverses the danger for you.
Ford last week was granted a patent for an autonomous off-road driving system, bridging the gap between the future of self--driving on road vehicles and the rugged terrain of rural and remote areas. This new system will allow equipped vehicles to read their environment and respond accordingly with full steering, brake and acceleration and adaptive suspension controls. While the vehicles pictured in diagrams pulled from the US Patent and Trademark Office appear to be Ford F-150s, the patent explains that this technology could be made available for any of Fords passenger or commercial vehicles including busses and taxis.
This new system relies on cameras, radar, ultrasonic and height sensors, LIDAR, topographic maps, rain and road-condition detectors, and other high tech sensors fed through a computer system that allows for partial driver control or full autonomous off-roading. The system will also safely evaluate the difficulty and potential danger of obstacles. According to the diagram included in the patent, when the system detects an obstacle that appears passable but might result in a rollover or other dangerous situation it will instruct all passengers including the driver to exit the vehicle while it drives itself over or through the obstacle. A remote feature that could be an actual physical remote or an app will allow the driver to override the system and bring the vehicle to a stop from a safe distance. We’ve seen off-road assist systems before like Toyota’s Crawl Control available on TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro models, but this is the first system for off-road travel that puts the entirety of it’s vehicles control systems at the hands of a computer. The adaptive suspension is a major game changer, because things like ride height, individual shock stiffness and other suspension variables will be automatically adjusted for a smoother and safer ride.
While some off-road enthusiasts might find this feature useless or invasive considering the point of wheeling is actually driving your vehicle in challenging situations, it’s application in more worldly situations could be revolutionary. If you’ve ever been to South America or Africa you know that many people around the world commute via bus or two wheel drive vehicle through over and gnarled backroads. While these places may not have the infrastructure to make roads safely passable for most passenger and commercial vehicles, Fords future vehicles may provide much needed assistance to drivers and passengers with difficult or dangerous commutes all over the globe.