Fully autonomous cars built without steering wheels or accelerator and brake pedals are to be on the road by 2021.
This is the aim of Ford, which is stepping up investment and collaboration with four start-ups to bring ride-hailing or ride-sharing services to market.
“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, 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.”
Ford’s first fully autonomous vehicle will be a Society of Automotive Engineers-rated level 4-capable vehicle that will be available in high volumes.
Ford said it is bringing its plans to fruition by investing in Californian companies Velodyne and Civil Maps, which will investigate a more affordable means of mass-producing LiDAR sensors, and develop high-resolution 3D mapping capabilities respectively.
Furthermore, Ford has acquired SAIPS, an Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company, and taken out an exclusive licensing agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience, a machine vision company founded by neuroscientist Dr Sheila Nirenberg, who cracked the neural code the eye uses to transmit visual information to the brain.
Operations in Silicon Valley are to expand also with a dedicated campus in Palo Alto that is scheduled to open by mid-2017. Located adjacent to Ford’s Research and Innovation Center, the campus will comprise two new buildings and 150,000 square feet of work and lab space.
“Our presence in Silicon Valley has been integral to accelerating our learning and deliverables driving Ford Smart Mobility,” said Ken Washington, Ford vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering. “Our goal was to become a member of the community. Today, we are actively working with more than 40 start-ups, and have developed a strong collaboration with many incubators, allowing us to accelerate development of technologies and services.”
This year, Ford said it will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet to be the largest test fleet of any car manufacturer, bringing the number to about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan, with plans to triple it again in 2017.