Ford is designing its 1st-generation autonomous cars for ride-hailing and ride-sharing services (Photo: Ford)

Ford Motor will show a further development of its Fusion Hybrid autonomous  vehicle at CES this year, introducing a research car it hopes will be its first autonomously driven production vehicle by 2021.

The US carmaker said the latest version of the Fusion Hybrid has more processing power, electrical controls that are closer to production-ready and improved sensor technology.

The Fusion Hybrid is designed to be a so-called SAE-defined level 4 capable vehicle. That means it would not need a driver to assume control. The car must be able to take over the traditional role of a human driver behind the wheel.

Chris Brewer, the chief program engineer for Ford's autonomous vehicle development, said in a blog post that the upgraded version of the Fusion Hybrid's virtual driver system "represents a big leap in sensing and computing power."

Ford is introducing two methods of perception into the car: mediated perception and direct perception. The former requires high-resolution 3D maps, which the car's virtual driver compares with the information genertaed by its lidar, radar and camera sensors.

Direct perception, which requires more sophisticated software and computing power, allows the vehicle to "see" its own positioning on the road as well as pedestrians, cyclists and other users of the traffic infrastructure.

The hybrid approach, Brewer said, "will enable our virtual driver system to perform tasks equal to what a human driver could, and potentially, even better.

Ford has also developed its own virtual driver software.

Ford is one of several automakers showing new technologies at CES, the world's biggest consumer electronics fair.

CES kicks off with two press days January 3 and 4. The show runs through January 8.