Ford and MIT develop new tech to change the future of autonomous cars and on-demand ride sharing facilities

Ford and MIT develop new tech to  change the future of autonomous cars and on-demand ride sharing facilities


No one likes waiting.

We live in a time where we want instant gratification; be it online or in the real-world – we want things now and having to wait for public transportation no longer acceptable.

One of the reason cited for not using public transportation is that the schedule is unpredictable and the joke is that you either “just missed the bus” or “its running late” and either way you just have to wait.

Even with on-demand car systems, you have to wait for your ride. Its all fine on a regular day or evening but if you ever tried to summon a ride after a big concert or at the end of a large convention you know that there is nothing “instant” about the system either.

It boils down to the Demand. In order to service a large crowd of people who would like to use a shuttle service or an on-demand car service, you need to be able to predict where the demand will be.

Ford Motor Company and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are collaborating to measure how pedestrians move in urban areas to improve certain public transportation services, such as  these ride-hailing and point-to-point shuttles services.

How it Works

The project will introduce a fleet of on-demand electric vehicle shuttles that operate on both city roads and campus walkways on the university’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus. The vehicles use LiDAR sensors and cameras to measure pedestrian flow, which ultimately helps predict demand for the shuttles. This, in turn, helps researchers and drivers route shuttles toward areas with the highest demand to better accommodate riders. LiDAR is the most efficient way to detect and localize objects from the environment surrounding the shuttles. The technology is much more accurate than GPS, emitting short pulses of laser light to precisely pinpoint the vehicles’ location on a map and detect the movement of nearby pedestrians and objects.

Ford and MIT develop new tech to  change the future of autonomous cars and on-demand ride sharing facilities

“The onboard sensors and cameras gather pedestrian data to estimate the flow of foot traffic,” said Ken Washington, vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering at Ford. “This helps us develop efficient algorithms that bring together relevant data. It improves mobility-on-demand services, and aids ongoing pedestrian detection and mapping efforts for autonomous vehicle research.”

During the past five months, Ford and MIT have used LiDAR sensors and cameras mounted to the vehicles to document pedestrian flow between different points on campus. Using this data, researchers study the overall pattern of how pedestrian traffic moves across campus, which helps the researchers anticipate where the most demand for the shuttles will be at any given moment. This allows the shuttles to be carefully pre-positioned and routed to serve the MIT population as efficiently as possible.

Ford and MIT researchers plan to introduce the service to a group of students and faculty beginning in September. This group will use a mobile application to hail one of three electric urban vehicles to their location and request to be dropped off at another destination on campus.

The electric vehicles are small enough to be able to navigate the campus’s sidewalks, while still leaving plenty of room for traditional pedestrian traffic. Each is outfitted with weatherproof enclosures that shield out inclement weather – a feature particularly useful for New England’s punishing winters.

After requesting the shuttles via a smartphone app, MIT students and faculty won’t be waiting long for their ride to arrive.

Researchers also take into account other factors that affect pedestrian movement on MIT’s campus, such as varying weather conditions, class schedules, and the dynamic habits of students and professors across different semesters.

Tech Beyond Campus

In Ford’s Michigan campus, Ford has deployed point-to-point shuttle rides to employees requesting rides using a mobile application. Using the research from the project with MIT will allow Ford to learn about their employees movements and therefore predict demand and reduce wait times for shuttles.

The same tech will also enhance Ford’s autonomous and driver assist technology as using the LiDAR system will create algorithms to learn how densely populated pedestrian crowd behaves and moves. This, and other research projects, are the foundation to make the Ford car of the future even safer for both driver and pedestrians.

Liron Segev - TheTechieGuy

Liron Segev is an award-winning tech blogger, YouTube strategist, and Podcaster. He helps brands tell their stories in an engaging way that non-techies can relate to. He also drinks way too much coffee! @Liron_Segev on Twitter