Ford has announced its intention to have a high-volume, fully autonomous SAE level 4-capable vehicle in commercial operation by 2021 in a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service.
Building on more than a decade of autonomous vehicle research and development, Ford’s first fully autonomous vehicle will be a Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) level 4-capable vehicle, without a steering wheel or gas and brake pedals. It is being specifically designed for commercial mobility services, such as ridesharing and ride-hailing, and will be available in high volumes.
In order to achieve this target, the company is investing in or collaborating with four startups to enhance its autonomous vehicle development, doubling its Silicon Valley team and more than doubling the size of its Palo Alto campus. Ford is tripling its autonomous vehicle test fleet this year to be the largest of any auto maker, bringing the number to about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans, with plans to triple it again in 2017.
To deliver its plan, Ford has announced four key investments and collaborations:
Velodyne, the Silicon Valley-based leader in lidar sensors, has received considerable investment with the aim of quickly mass-producing a more affordable automotive lidar unit.
SAIPS, the Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company, has been acquired to further strengthen Ford’s expertise in artificial intelligence and enhance computer vision, which will help its autonomous vehicles learn and adapt to their surroundings.
Nirenberg Neuroscience has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Ford; the machine vision company was founded by neuroscientist Dr Sheila Nirenberg, who cracked the neural code the eye uses to transmit visual information to the brain. The partnership will help bring humanlike intelligence to the machine learning modules of its autonomous vehicle virtual driver system.
Civil Maps, a mapping company based in Berkeley, California, has received investment to further develop high-resolution 3D mapping capabilities that is scalable and more efficient than existing processes.
Ford is also expanding its Silicon Valley operations, creating a dedicated campus in Palo Alto that will open in mid-2017. Adding two new buildings and 150,000ft² of work and lab space adjacent to the current Research and Innovation Center (RIC), the expanded campus grows the company’s local footprint and supports plans to double the size of the Palo Alto team by the end of 2017.
“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,” said Mark Fields (right), 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.”
Raj Nair, Ford’s chief technical officer, added, “We have a strategic advantage because of our ability to combine the software and sensing technology with the sophisticated engineering necessary to manufacture high-quality vehicles. That is what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world.”