In August this year, Ford had announced plans to have a high-volume, fully autonomous vehicle that meets all the criteria set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), operational by 2021. The carmaker had said that this SAE level 4-capable vehicle will first be introduced as part of a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service, before being made available to individual customers. Yesterday, the Blue Oval revealed the next-generation Fusion Hybrid autonomous development vehicle, which will take the project to its next level over the coming months.

Set to be shown officially at the CES and the North American International Auto Show in January, this development vehicle uses the current Ford autonomous vehicle platform, but increases the processing power with new hardware. Ford says the test car’s electrical controls are almost production-ready, and tweaks made to the sensor technology will let the car be able to better see what’s around it. It is also equipped with new Lidar sensors with an increased targeted field of vision. Lidar sensors measure distance to a target by illuminating that target with a laser light. And the upgrades made to this new tester means it will need just two of these sensors instead of four used by the previous development vehicle.

“The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” says Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO. “We’re dedicated to putting on the road an autonomous vehicle that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people – not just those who can afford luxury vehicles.”

Most of the testing is being done in and around Michigan, which recently reversed a 2013 law that required autonomous vehicles to have a backup driver. This clears the way for car manufacturers to design and develop vehicles without a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal.