Ford plans to build a fully autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals by 2021, the company announced today. The vehicle will be aimed at ride-hailing and ride-sharing fleets.
To get there, Ford is working with a number of startups, including a new investment in Velodyne, a firm that makes LIDAR sensors; the acquisition of SAIPS, an Israeli company that makes computer vision and machine learning software; an exclusive licensing agreement with “virtual retina” technology company Nirenberg Neuroscience, LLC; and a previously announced investment in 3D-mapping company Civil Maps.
The company is also expanding its research and innovation center in Palo Alto and plans to double the size of its team there by the end of next year.
Ford executives said the company wasn’t at the stage where it could show a vehicle, or even talk about what that vehicle might look like. Instead, it’s focused on getting the hardware and software ready for a driverless car.
The goal is to build a vehicle to the SAE Level 4 standard of automation. This would give the car the ability to handle all aspects of driving, although limited to certain approved areas or regions. A car could be restricted to only the island of Manhattan, or to take certain approved routes outside of Manhattan to get to the airport or Yankee Stadium.
“In a ride service, you could imagine that the defined environment or area might be large enough to take a customer from a city center to an airport or a seaport,” said Ken Washington, Ford’s VP of Research and Advanced Engineering. “Depending on how much of that environment can you capture in your high resolution map, you can define the area that you’re going to service with the vehicles.”
This makes the task a bit easier than building a car that can handle every possible situation, as vehicles will only be allowed to drive in areas that have very high-resolution mapping data already.
Over the next five years, in addition to working out the software and hardware, Ford and the rest of the industry will need to get governments to write regulations allowing them to offer these cars at all. Ford, Google, and Uber joined forces earlier this year to form an autonomous car lobbying group.
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SOURCE: The Verge, Jordan Golson