Can Ford Deliver Self-Driving Cars for Ride-Sharing by 2021?
Ian Wright posted on August 18, 2016 |
Automaker doubles down on Silicon Valley operations.
(Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)
(Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)
Have you tried ride-sharing yet?

If not, the experience is sort of like a cross between taking a taxi and getting a ride from a causal acquaintance: convenient, but a little bit awkward. Are you supposed to sit in the passenger seat or the back seat? I still haven’t figured that out.

Fortunately for the socially inept such as myself, Ford Motor Company is planning to remove the driver from the ride-sharing equation by putting self-driving cars into ride-hailing or ride-sharing service by 2021.

Meeting that goal won’t be easy, but the company is working with four start-ups to enhance its autonomous vehicle technology and is also working to double the size of its Silicon Valley team and Palo Alto campus.

A Highly Autonomous Ford

Ford has stated that its first autonomous vehicle will be level-4 capable, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standard J3016. This should not be confused with the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) levels of vehicle automation, which range from 0 to 4 rather than the SAE’s scale of 0 to 5.

(Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)
(Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)
Conflicting rating systems aside, the point is that Ford’s autonomous vehicle will lack some of the conventional automotive must-haves: a steering wheel as well gas and brake pedals.

To realize this plan, Ford will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet this year from 10 to 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans, giving the company the largest test fleet of any automaker. This includes Google as well, which usually has about a dozen autonomous cars on the road at any given time. Ford plans to triple the size of its autonomous fleet again in 2017.

Ford Investments in Self-Driving Tech

The company has also announced four key investments and collaborations to improve its development of algorithms, 3D mapping, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and radar and camera sensors. They are:

  • Velodyne: A developer of LiDAR sensors, Ford is investing in this company in an effort to speed the mass production of affordable LiDAR sensors.
  • SAIPS: Ford acquired this computer vision and machine learning company to help its autonomous vehicles learn and adapt to the surroundings of their environment.
  • Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC: Ford has an exclusive licensing agreement with this machine vision company, founded by a neuroscientist who discovered how the eyes transmit visual information to the brain. Ford is hoping this will help bring humanlike intelligence to the machine learning modules of its virtual drivers.
  • Civil Maps: Ford has invested in this company in an effort to develop high-resolution 3D maps of autonomous vehicle environments.

“Ford has been developing and testing autonomous vehicles for more than 10 years,” said Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president for global product development and chief technical officer. “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. That is what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world.”

(Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)
(Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)
So can Ford deliver on its promise of autonomous ride-sharing by 2021? It had better, because with competitors like GM investing in Lyft and now Volvo partnering with Uber, the race to the self-driving car finish line is certainly heating up. The good news is that no matter who gets there first, putting autonomous vehicles into mass production is a win for all of us.

How did we get to this point in driverless car technology? Read The Road to Driverless Cars: 1925 – 2025 and find out.

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