Ford Announces Intent to Produce Full-Autonomous Car for Rideshare by 2021
Level-Four Autonomous Vehicle to Press Into Ride-Hailing/Taxi Service
Ford just announced that it will press a fully autonomous vehicle into service in five years at a press conference in Palo Alto, California, today. Speaking to the assembled crowd, Ford CEO Mark Fields and CTO Raj Nair confirmed an SAE Level Four automated car for ride-hailing service in the year 2021. SAE Level Four indicates fully autonomous vehicle operation under some driving modes, and Ford says its version won’t even have a steering wheel or a need for driver intervention.
The implications on the ride-sharing/taxi and delivery industries are pretty poignant, since these types of vehicles often make repetitive and repeatable routes than can be optimized in advance. As such, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Ford offer some sort of partnership with UberEats, Amazon, or other delivery providers for an autonomous delivery truck.
Ford is among the last of the major automakers to announce an autonomous-vehicle program, a circumstance the company CEO says is deliberate.
“We’re not in a race to make announcements,” Fields said. “We are in a race to do what’s right by our customers and to do what’s right for our business.” The statement smacks of some of the criticism levied at Tesla’s Autopilot program, a semi-autonomous feature that many argue isn’t safe or regulated enough for use on public roads. Tesla itself describes the Autopilot feature as in “beta” mode, ostensibly so customers don’t depend on it too much.
Fields also called autonomous technology the next logical step for the company’s Smart Mobility mission. Citing Ford’s history with providing cheap transportation to the masses, he said the technology could help people with disabilities, as well as those too young or too old to drive, with convenient mobility.
Nair expounded on the company’s next steps in implementing the autonomous technology. Ford will invest in two companies as part of its goal, including LiDAR company Velodyne and Civil Maps, a company that helps create autonomous mapping technology. Furthermore, Ford acquired Israeli startup SAIPS, a company that develops machine learning and computer vision technology, and the automaker will also collaborate very closely with neuroscientist Sheila Nirenberg, whose research on mechanized vision may help those with eye degeneration maintain their sight. Dr. Nirenberg’s technology also should help autonomous vehicles recognize their surroundings and act appropriately.
Fields insisted now is the right time for autonomous technology, since it could help reduce the 90 percent of automobile deaths attributable to driver error. By his math, autonomous technology could prevent 27,000 deaths in the United States alone, if it sees full implementation. And while autonomous tech might sound scary to enthusiasts and devoted drivers, Fields’ mention of Ford’s legendary sports cars and capable pickup trucks suggests the company will continue to offer those sorts of vehicles.
There’s no doubt Ford’s technology is in its infant stages, but with a promise to double the program’s staff by the end of next year, it sounds like the company is well on its way to delivering on its ambitious timeline. Who knows, within five years, we could all be taking autonomous Ford taxis to dinner and drinks.
Source: Ford, via YouTube