If you thought off-road vehicles were immune to self-driving technology, you’d be wrong. Recently, Ford patented a system that will allow vehicles to drive themselves through all sorts of off-road obstacles.
As described in the patent, uncovered earlier by Off-Road.com, the system first determines whether it’s safe for the vehicle to traverse an off-road obstacle. This capability is possible via a sensor that detects the presence of such an obstacle and sends a signal to a processor. If the challenging surface is safe to clear, the system controls the active suspension system to complete the task. It can also generate an alert if it determines it’s better for passengers to exit before the vehicle clears the obstacle.
The autonomous system allows vehicles to tackle many different types of environmental obstacles. If the system detects large rocks, for instance, it will adjust the suspension settings to accommodate rock crawling mode. Other examples given include ground clearance avoidance mode and ditch crossing mode. The system may even combine these modes or other modes depending on the surface the vehicle has to cross.
For safety purposes, the system considers a host of risk factors including roll-overs, traction loss, and loss of control when deciding whether or not to clear an obstacle. If the risk factors are below the maximum threshold but at an intermediate level, the system will determine it’s only safe to drive through the obstacle autonomously. It will also ask passengers to exit the vehicle before continuing the maneuver. In situations deemed too risky, the vehicle will tell the driver to pursue another path.
The system could use lidar, radar, camera, or ultrasound sensors as well as map data to help it traverse detected obstacles. The patent also mentions the vehicle could be controlled through a remote control device.
The document shows pictures of a pickup truck, although the system can also be applied to other vehicles, even those not associated with off-roading. “The vehicle may include any passenger or commercial automobile such as a car, a truck, a sport utility vehicle, a crossover vehicle, a van, a minivan, a taxi, a bus, etc.,” says the patent.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of autonomous off-road technology. Jaguar Land Rover has showcased a Range Rover Sport that can be remote-controlled through off-road obstacles with the driver standing outside the vehicle.
Having some help from an autonomous system could prove handy if you land in a ditch and need to find a way out. It’s unclear exactly how Ford plans to roll out this technology in future vehicles, if it even will.