Ford Motors is getting into the ride-sharing business in a big way after announcing it will build a high-volume fleet of autonomous vehicles for commercial operation by the year 2021.
In order to accomplish this task, Ford is investing in a number of start-up companies that are working on autonomous vehicle development, and it will double its own team working on the project in Silicon Valley.
“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,” says 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.”
The first of these autonomous vehicles will be a Society of Automotive Engineers-rated level four-capable vehicle that will come without a steering wheel or gas and brake pedals. It will be designed specifically for commercial mobility services—ride sharing and ride hailing—and will be available in high volumes, Ford says.
According to Ford, the goal of the project is to become the leader in autonomous vehicles as well as the automotive leader in connectivity, mobility and data analytics.
This year, Ford says it will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet, bringing the number to about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan. It will then triple its test fleet in 2017, the company says.
As part of its plan to get a fleet up and running by 2021, Ford is investing and collaborating in four key areas, including advanced algorithms, 3-D mapping, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors, and radar and camera sensors.
Ford is investing in Velodyne, a start-up company in LiDAR sensors, in order to have the sensors mass-produced by the time Ford has its fleet available. Velodyne has been using LiDAR for both high-resolution mapping and autonomous driving for more than 10 years.
Ford has also acquired Israeli computer vision and machine learning vendor, SAIPS, and will use its technology to help autonomous vehicles to learn and adapt to their surroundings. Ford has also invested in Civil Maps, a California-based start-up company, in order to boost its 3-D mapping technology for autonomous vehicles.
Finally, Ford has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience, a machine vision company, to help its autonomous vehicles in performing navigation, object recognition, facial recognition and other functions.
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