COLOGNE, Germany—Ford Motor Co. flagship European factory here is testing AI-powered automated driving technology designed to enable electric vehicles to drive themselves off the assembly line. Cars also self drive to final testing stations and self-charge before parking in the shipping department.

The E-SELF project is among a range of initiatives that engineers are exploring at the new Ford Cologne EV Centre, where production of an all-electric Explorer SUV will begin later this year.

“[We are] reinventing [our] portfolio of vehicles in Europe and exploring how we produce our new EVs is integral to that process,” says Frank Schwarz, project leader. “Introducing self-driving technology to the assembly line could support efficiency and safety, while enabling employees to focus on critical tasks.”

Ford is conducting the two-and-a-half-year trial with partners Institute of Automotive Engineering of the Technische Universität Braunschweig and Kopernikus Automotive. The E-SELF project uses vehicle-to-infrastructure communication to control and monitor vehicles.

Sensors located around the assembly plant can identify hazards in the vehicle’s path, such as a person or another car, and vehicles are slowed or brought to a halt as required.

According to Schwarz, final testing alone can involve a dozen or more trips between different locations in the factory before vehicles are ready for collection and delivery by road, rail and ferry.

Using AI technology, EVs will drive themselves and be charged and ready to go. The system works for all vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission, electronic stability control, an electric handbrake and assisted steering. The only additional requirement is a smart communication unit to enable the interaction with the infrastructure.