Ford, MIT collaborate for new mobility-on-demand project

The project will introduce a fleet of on-demand electric vehicle shuttles on streets and MIT campus walkways in September.

0 August 2, 2016

Ford is partnering with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a new research project that measures how pedestrians move in urban areas to improve certain public transportation services.


Graduate student Justin Miller and undergrad Wally Wibowo of the Aerospace Controls Lab working on vehicles outfitted with sensors that match those of self-driving cars. This work is part of the Ford-MIT Collaboration.

The collaboration will introduce a fleet of on-demand electric vehicle shuttles on streets and MIT campus walkways in September. The vehicles are small enough to navigate the sidewalks while still leaving room for foot traffic.

The vehicles will use LiDAR sensors and cameras to measure pedestrian flow. The goal of the sensors is to help predict demand to allow researchers and drivers to route shuttles toward areas with the highest demand to better accommodate riders.

Ford and MIT have determined that 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.

“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.”

The MIT research is being conducted by the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department’s Aerospace Controls Lab.

“Through the mobility-on-demand system being developed for MIT’s campus, ACL can investigate new planning and prediction algorithms in a complex, but controlled, environment, while simultaneously providing a testbed framework for researchers and a service to the MIT community,” said ACL director Professor Jonathan How.

A group of students and faculty will have access to 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.

This collaboration further contributes to Ford’s Dynamic Shuttle project. This program provides point-to-point shuttle rides to employees requesting rides using a mobile application on its Dearborn, Michigan, campus. The collaboration advances the ride-hailing concept to new heights by examining the movement of pedestrians to predict demand and reduce wait times for shuttles.

What’s more, the algorithms and methods learned when navigating densely crowded pedestrian areas using LiDAR will also strengthen Ford’s autonomous and driver assist technologies as the company continues develop autonomous vehicles.

The project is one of more than 30 mobility solutions university research projects between Ford and universities in the U.S., Germany and China aimed at helping the company and academic world better understand how to improve mobility for millions of people globally.

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