Ford is working on technology that would allow a truck to autonomously tackle off-road trails itself, and to eject its human passengers if the rocky terrain ahead looks particularly rough.
The patents granted to the automaker involve an application that “incorporates a computer processor with access to instructions stored in memory which will allow the vehicle to evaluate a certain environment and, if it deems the situation to be safe, traverse an obstacle while controlling an active suspension system,” reports Off-Road.com.
In other words, the technology would use sensors to determine whether the trail ahead is safe to cross; and, if it is, would allow the driver to pilot the truck over it, or to give up control and, hands-free, let the truck cross it.
The sensors could also talk to the truck’s active suspension system to determine whether the terrain might pose a risk of roll-over, and then ‘Alert Passengers to Exit Vehicle’ so that the truck can cross that more dangerous part on its own. (Cameras or sensors inside would ensure the truck’s occupants actually have left the cab.)
Another line in the patent suggests trucks equipped with this self-off-roading technology might also come with a remote-control or smartphone app so you can stop your autonomous Raptor from pressing its luck and ending up on its roof once it’s kicked you out.
The sensors used to decide how rough the terrain ahead is would include either a camera, LIDAR, radar, ultrasound, map data, or some combination of these.
As Off-Road.com points out, “many trucks and SUVs already have some form of downhill-descent control which could be construed as a form of autonomous control, so this is not entirely new territory.”
“What is new is the truck’s ability to make decisions for itself,” as well as the trick active suspension system, which, even without autonomous capabilities, could significantly simplify off-roading and rock-crawling for drivers by adjusting multiple parameters – braking, steering, ride height – on the fly.
How long before a self-off-roading Ford hits the market, though, is something we’ll have to wait to find out.