Ford targets fully autonomous vehicle by 2021

Ford announces major investment in tech start-ups and staff to deliver a commercial autonomous vehicle within five years

Ford is tripling its autonomous test fleet in 2016 to around 30 Fusion Hybrids.
Ford is tripling its autonomous test fleet in 2016 to around 30 Fusion Hybrids.

Ford has announced its intention to produce a fully autonomous, or “SAE level 4-capable” (operable without a wheel of pedals), vehicle for commercial operations by 2021 as part of a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service.

To achieve this, the company is investing in or collaborating with four start-ups and doubling both its Silicon Valley team and Palo Alto technology campus in San Antonio, Texas.

“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, Ford president and CEO.

“We’re dedicated to putting an autonomous vehicle on the road that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions – not just those who can afford luxury vehicles.”

Raj Nair, Ford executive VP for global product development and chief technical officer, noted: “Ford has been developing and testing autonomous vehicles for more than 10 years.

“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 – this is what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world.”

The four key investments and collaborations that Ford is making involve expanding its research into advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors. The companies are:

  • Velodyne, a Silicon Valley-based leader in light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors with whom Ford has a 10-year-long relationship that is currently aiming to commercialise LiDAR.
  • SAIPS, a computer vision and machine learning company acquired by Ford to further enhance image and video processing through the use of algorithmic solutions and artificial intelligence.
  • 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, that Ford has exclusively licensed agreement to bring humanlike learning to its virtual drivers.
  • Civil Maps, a Berkeley-based company that Ford has invested in to further develop high-resolution 3D mapping capabilities to generate high-resolution maps for its autonomous vehicles.

Ford is also tripling its autonomous vehicle test fleet in 2016 to around 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans – largest such test fleet for any automaker – for tests on the roads around California, Arizona and Michigan, and plans to triple it yet again next year.

The construction of a dedicated campus in Palo Alto, is meanwhile set to add two buildings and 14,000m2 of work and lab space under the plans to double the local team by the end of 2017.

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