Ford tests drones to guide self-driving cars

Engineering and Technology – Drones could provide an extra ‘set of eyes’ to future driverless cars, helping them to navigate in complex environments including areas without infrastructure, US car maker Ford envisions.

The drones, launched directly from the driverless vehicles, would map the surrounding environment beyond the reach of sensors mounted on the cars and provide data in areas not previously mapped.

“At some point, people are going to want to take their autonomous vehicle into the woods or off road where the drone could guide them,” said Alan Hall, spokesman for Ford’s in house technology department.

The car’s passengers would steer the drone using the car’s in-built infotainment and navigation system.

Ford has patented the idea, which came out of a brainstorming session of researchers and engineers designing Ford’s autonomous vehicle.

Earlier this year, Ford ran a competition together with Chinese drone developer DJI, looking for a solution that would enable a drone to be launched directly from a moving car and return to it safely after creating a map of the terrain ahead.

The system could help with navigation in disaster zones and areas without infrastructure.

The drone would communicate with the car using Ford’s wireless Ford Sync communication technology.

Only one team taking part in the competition managed to accomplish the task, having launched a drone from a Ford F-150 pick-up truck and returning it back after completing the task.

Ford is further working on the technology together with engineers from the Silicon Valley Research Center in Palo Alto, California.

Dutch navigation and mapping company TomTom has previously studied the use of drones for mapping and guidance for autonomous cars.

Image citation: JackTheVicar, CC BY-SA 3.0