Ford will test autonomous cars in California next year

Silicon Valley is getting more robot-driven vehicles.

Ford's autonomous vehicles will be joining Google, Mercedes and Audi on California roads in the coming year. The automaker secured permits to operate specially built Fusion Hybrids out of the company's Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto.

Ford says the tests are part of its 10-year autonomous-vehicle deployment plan and is an important element in its Smart Mobility scheme. The automaker (like most automakers) is exploring highly connected cars with autonomous features and what that means for the future of transportation.

At its research center it has been exploring autonomous vehicle virtual test drives to see what happens when pedestrians and other elements do unexpected things and sensor technology. Adding real-world autonomous driving is a natural extension to that work.