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Ford outs 4th-gen self-driving platform with better sensors, cleaning tech and improved batteries

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Ford and Argo AI today released details about its fourth-generation self-driving test vehicle. Built on the 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid, the vehicle has everything needed to stand up a self-driving service, the Detroit automaker said. It's equipped with an improved battery system, new sensors and sensor-cleaning technology.

The previous three generations of test vehicles used the Ford Fusion sedan.

For this latest platform, Ford upgraded the lidar sensor suite with an all-new system that sports a higher resolution 128-beam array to provide a 360-degree view. Ford says this helps the test vehicle better detect moving objects closer to the vehicle. Near-field cameras and short-range lidar look ahead and to the vehicle's side while rear-facing sensors help with objects behind the SUV.

The Escape Hybrid's platform better serves the self-driving technology with improved battery cooling. Ford says that modified high-voltage batteries help supply the self-driving system while also reducing the gasoline consumed by the vehicle.

Ford is rolling out this new testbed to its testing cities of Austin, Detroit, Miami, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. And in each of these regions, the improved sensor cleaning technology should help the vehicle in its self-driving efforts.

Ford says it reworked the systems tasked with ensuring the sensors are free of dust, rain, snow and ice. More spray nozzles shoot out liquid cleaning solutions at a higher pressure than previous models. The lidar sensors have a newly developed, hidden, forced-air cleaning system, too.

Ford said in 2018 it intended to spend $4 billion on autonomous vehicles by 2023, and recent developments make it clear Ford is pushing forward in this effort. In 2018 the automaker purchased the defunct Michigan Central Station and surrounding buildings in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. Since then, it has been making additional investments in the area as it retrofits the massive train station. Two months ago, it teamed with Bosch and Bedrock to announce an automated valet parking garage.

Despite's today's news, the company's self-driving service is still a few years out. In April 2020, Ford said it was postponing its autonomous vehicle service until 2022, as the COVID-19 crisis caused a rethink of the strategy.