With wide-open highways and multilane suburban streets, U.S. roads are friendly proving grounds for self-driving vehicles. By contrast, the narrow streets of European cities are more challenging territory for autonomous technology. Ford intends to gain autonomous experience in European environments, and the company said it will deploy at least one of its Fusion hybrid research vehicles in Europe early next year.
Engineers from Ford’s research and development facilities in Aachen and Cologne, Germany, and the company’s engineering center in Essex, England, are jointly leading the testing program, according to a company spokesperson. Their focus will be on adapting autonomous technology for European conditions.
“Rules of the road vary from country to country here, traffic signs and road layouts are different, and drivers are likely to share congested roads with cyclists,” said Thomas Lukaszewicz, manager of automated driving for Ford of Europe.
The program will start with a single vehicle in early 2017, but that number is expected to grow. Even with a few more cars, those numbers will still be small in comparison with Ford’s autonomous operations in the United Sates, where the company tripled the size of its fleet from 10 to 30 cars this year and intends to triple it again in 2017 for continued testing in California, Arizona, and Michigan.
Ford is the first American manufacturer to extend its autonomous testing overseas, although it won’t be the first time the company has looked to Europe to test some of its forward-looking technologies. Earlier this year, Ford conducted a pilot project in London that explored how customers could summon on-demand shuttles via an app.
Although company officials haven’t yet said where the European testing will take place, the United Kingdom has adopted regulations that many manufacturers consider friendly for testing purposes, including permitting autonomous vehicles on all roads and investing in infrastructure that connected and autonomous cars may need.
Jaguar Land Rover announced plans in July to test as many as 100 connected and self-driving vehicles in and around Birmingham over the next four years, and Volvo intends to test approximately 100 vehicles throughout Great Britain through a testing program called Drive Me London. Those tests are expected to begin with a smaller number of cars in 2017 and expand in 2018.