Ford cars will soon start scanning the streets for wayward pedestrians

The new 2015 Mondeo will be the Ford car to own to engage in people watching — quite literally. The European vehicle will use radar and cameras to scan the road and sidewalks ahead to look for pedestrians in the vehicle’s path or about to enter it. If it spots one, it will notify the driver and can even apply the brakes if he or she fails to act on it.

The pedestrian detection system, which Ford first previewed last year, is part of a new Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) that the automaker is sticking in new [company]Ford[/company] and Lincoln vehicles, starting with Mondeo in Europe later this year. The idea is to develop a suite of technologies that partially automate the process of driving in both everyday and emergency situations, while still leaving the driver in firm control of the car. That’s a philosophy that dictates Ford’s approach to the autonomous car, as Ford executive director of connected vehicle and services Don Butler pointed out at Gigaom’s Structure Connect this week.

What’s most interesting about the new pedestrian scanning feature is that it isn’t an on-off kind of technology in which either the driver or car is in control. If the car detects a potential collision in the making, it doesn’t just slam on the brakes. It first warns the driver with and then it closes the gap between the brake pads and the discs, making the car more responsive when the driver does react to the pedestrian. Only if there’s no action from the driver, it then applies the brakes, slowing the car down so the driver can more easily avoid an impending accident.

Ford Obstacle avoidance autonomous car

And the system is able to tell a pedestrian from a permanent fixture on the sidewalk such by comparing it against a database of pedestrian shapes – basically your car isn’t going to fret about the possibility of a lamppost or sidewalk bench jumping out in front of you. Ford, however, cautions that the system does have its limitations. It works best in well-lit conditions and at lower speeds.

We’re still a long way off from seeing the autonomous car, but we’re starting to see a lot more of these semi-autonomous features emerge in newer vehicles. [company]Tesla[/company] debuted its “autopilot” system in the Model S, which can read speed-limit signs and even automatically keep within its lane when rounding corners. That’s hardly self-driving, but we’re getting to the point where the distinction between a car action and a driver action is starting to blur.