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At CES 2016, Ford announced that during 2016 it will triple the size of its autonomous vehicle test fleet from 10 today to 30, at which point it will be “the largest in the automotive industry”.

Like its existing self-driving cars, the new additions to the fleet will be based on the company’s Fusion hybrid sedan.

The new cars will, however, use Ford’s third-generation autonomous car platform, and will employ the latest lidar sensor by Velodyne, the Solid-State Hybrid Ultra Puck Auto (bottom). The unit is so named due its similarity in shape and size to a hockey puck.

Fusion Hybrid Research Vehicle at Mcity
Above: Second-generation Ford autonomous vehicle based on the Fusion hybrid.

According to the Ford, the new sensor has a longer range of around 200 metres and is small enough that it could even be situated on a wing mirror. The company says that with its “more targeted field of view”, its third-generation self-driving platform will require only two lidar sensors, rather than the current four.

As with other lidar sensors, the puck emits laser pulses millions of times per second in order to scan and map out the surrounding environment in three dimensions.

The company’s autonomous vehicle fleet will soon begin real world testing on Californian roads. At present, Ford’s self-driving cars only ply the pavement in Arizona and its native Michigan.

Autonomous vehicle LiDAR sensors

During its press conference at CES 2016, Ford made no mention of its rumoured autonomous vehicle collaboration with Google, but it did announce a new tech partnership with Amazon.

Their collaboration will centre around the Alexa virtual assistant that’s a core component of the Amazon Echo. At the show, the companies demonstrated (top) how Alexa is able to get the status of and control a compatible Ford vehicle. For example, an owner can ask Alexa about their car’s battery charge status or command Alexa to start their car’s engine.

From within the vehicle, the driver is able to access their home’s Amazon Echo device via AppLink and Sync. That way garage doors can opened, or various home devices turned on or off.