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Ford’s Autonomous “Traffic Jam Assist” Is a Work in Progress

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Paul Marks, chief technology correspondent for NewScientist, writes that he is the first journalist to “test drive” Ford’s latest vehicle automation technology, Traffic Jam Assist (TJA). In an article published on Tuesday, he takes the reader along with him as he describes the ride on a test track at the University of Aachen, Germany, “just down the road from Ford’s European research centre:”

I’m creeping along in a mock traffic jam behind the wheel of a Ford S-Max hatchback — but my hands are not on the wheel. And neither, for that matter, are my feet on the brake or gas pedals.

TJA is the latest technology among several projects that aim to totally automate a car. It follows the automatic gearbox, adaptive cruise control, and radar that automatically stops a car if the driver attempts to rear-end another car, as Marks notes. He adds that TJA also comes after blind-spot risk sensors, and algorithms that use ultrasound to steer a car into a parking spot. Marks writes that TJA is a low-speed version of adaptive cruise control, and works by harnessing sensors, laser-range finders, 2.4-gigahertz microwave radar, and ultrasonic transducers. reports that according to Ford engineers, the sensors will tell the car how fast to go to match the speed of the driver in front, and the cameras will warn drivers if they begin to drift out of lane. A Ford press release says TJA “has the potential to follow the traffic ahead while maintaining lane position in environments where there are no pedestrians, cyclists or animals, and where lanes are clearly marked.”

TJA is still in the experimental stage, UPI writes. Ford says TJA uses technology from features already available in Ford cars. The system’s goal is to reduce driver stress and fatigue while cutting down on traffic congestion and, Ford writes, TJA is being developed potentially for the period between 2017 to 2025.

Here is more of Marks describing his “test drive”:

Back in the car, and advised by Ford safety engineer Thomas Lukaszewicz, I drive initially in the middle of a lane behind another car and, as that car slows to a stop, so do I. Then I press a button to engage Traffic Jam Assist, take my hands off the wheel and my feet off the pedals, and wait for the guy in front to pull away. And when he does, the tech kicks in: a front facing camera seeks out the lane markings while the radar senses the car ahead and the laser its range — and my car then pulls away automatically, following it almost magically.

As the guy in front slows to a stop, so does my car. Next time around though, he nips out of my lane and another car sneaks into his place — yet none of this confuses the sensors in Traffic Jam Assist.

Although TJA looks like a promising technology, Marks writes, Ford and other car companies need to make sure their automated systems — especially ones using vehicle-to-vehicle communication — are protected against hackers by “properly proven safety-critical software.”

He quotes Pim van der Jagt, director of Ford’s Aachen research centre:

‘Imagine if a hacker manages to create a ‘ghost car,’ sending out information about a car that doesn’t exist,’ says Van der Jagt. ‘It might appear that a car is speeding through the traffic at 100mph and is not going to stop. So all the cars will see that information and will try to get out of the way of this car that doesn’t exist, creating total chaos. We need to develop security measures to stop that. But we think we have the technical answers.’

Video by fordvideo1, used under Fair Use: Reporting.


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