Ford says it will have a fully autonomous car by 2021 (Update)

August 16, 2016 by Dee-Ann Durbin
In this Thursday, March 26, 2015, file photo, Ford President and CEO Mark Fields speaks during the inauguration of Ford's manufacturing facility and engine plant at Sanand, near Ahmadabad, India. Fields said Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, that Ford Motor Co. will have a fully autonomous vehicle ready to provide ride-hailing or ride-sharing services by 2021. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki, File)

Ford Motor Co. intends to have a fully driverless vehicle—no steering wheel, no pedals—on the road within five years. The car will initially be used for commercial ride-hailing or ride-sharing services, with sales to consumers coming later.

"This is a transformational moment in our industry and it is a transformational moment for our company," said CEO Mark Fields, as he announced the plan Tuesday at Ford's Silicon Valley campus in Palo Alto, California.

Ford's approach to the autonomous car breaks from many other companies, like Mercedes-Benz and Tesla Motors, which plan to gradually add self-driving capability to traditional cars. Just last month, BMW AG, Intel Corp. and the automotive camera maker Mobileye announced a plan to put an autonomous vehicle with a steering wheel on the road by 2021.

Instead, Ford is taking the same approach as Alphabet Inc.'s Google, which supports moving directly to self-driving cars once the technology is perfected.

"We abandoned the stepping-stone approach of driver-assist technologies and decided we were going to take the full leap," said Raj Nair, Ford's chief technical officer.

Nair says Ford will continue developing systems that assist the driver, like automatic emergency braking or lane departure warning. But he said semi-autonomous systems that can operate the car but then cede control back to the driver when an obstacle is encountered are actually dangerous in Ford's view. Engineers couldn't figure out how to make sure drivers stay engaged and ready to take over. So, Ford decided to remove the driver altogether.

"We learned that to achieve full autonomy, we have to take a completely different path," Nair said.

Jeremy Carlson, a senior analyst with IHS Automotive, says he doesn't know of another automaker that is taking Ford's approach. But there are challenges either way, he said. Riders may have a hard time trusting fully autonomous cars, for example, but semi-autonomous cars can be dangerous because drivers may not understand what the vehicles can and cannot do.

"I don't think there's going to be any one right answer," he said.

But Dillon Blake, senior director of business development for Runzheimer, a transportation consulting firm, says Ford's approach could go wrong very quickly.

"When you do it in steps, you get to make tweaks along the way. When you go all or bust, it's like going 'all in' in Vegas," Blake said.

Ford's vehicle will be specifically designed for commercial mobility services, like taxi companies, and will be available in high volumes. Ford says personal ownership of self-driving cars will come later.

Ford didn't say whether it would work with a ride-sharing partner or try to establish services on its own. Rival General Motors Co. has a partnership with the ride-hailing company Lyft and has also bought a self-driving software company called Cruise Automation.

Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford also said it plans to double the staff at its Palo Alto research center by the end of next year to nearly 300 people. It will buy two more buildings next to its current building in order to expand its campus, Fields said.

Ford will also make several investments and partnerships to speed its development of autonomous vehicles.

Ford and Chinese search engine company Baidu will each invest $75 million in Velodyne, a company that makes laser sensors that help guide self-driving cars. Velodyne, based in Morgan Hill, California, says it will use the $150 million investment to expand design and production and reduce the cost of its sensors. Laser sensors—dubbed Lidar, which stands for light, detection and ranging—can also be used in conventional vehicles as part of driver assist systems.

Ford said it has acquired Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company SAIPS for its expertise in artificial intelligence and computer vision. It also invested in Berkeley, California-based Civil Maps for its three-dimensional mapping capabilities.

Ford has also formed a partnership with New York-based Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC, a machine vision company that has developed devices for restoring sight to patients with degenerative eye diseases.

Ford shares fell 9 cents to $12.34 on Tuesday.

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6 comments

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Waaalt
5 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2016
Taxis and uber etc are about half a million jobs in the US. The most common job in most every state is truck driver. Furthermore, it's not just the US: driver jobs are an indispensable pillar of the word economy.

It's time to stop blindly repeating the quaint old notion that technology will create new jobs as it destroys old ones and face this reality: this technology will collapse the world economy, no exaggeration.

Thus, it can not be allowed on the roads until after a solution is known. It would be insane and beyond irresponsible to put so many people out of work to the point that it endangers everyone else's jobs and the basic functioning of the world's economy from lost wages and spending, and only once it has happened start to talk about solutions to the economic problems this technology is destined to create.

The solutions to the catastrophic economic problems driverless vehicles will create must be ready to go before they are allowed to be deployed.
RMQ
1 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2016
The "think" tanks must be working to find a solution to the great problem that "they" are facing: How to keep sending poor and minorities to prison if the cars will be self-driven? How the heroic police officer will "defend" his life and shoot unarmed poor and minorities?

Here a solution. The USA government needs to deposit money in the bank accounts of the poor, and once the money is used, arrest them and put them in prision, take their children away, etc, etc.

The land of freedom.
James_Morgan
not rated yet Aug 17, 2016
Full automation will never work in the UK, our roads are too complex.
Small town streets need a lot of common sense to drive through and narrow winding country lanes are another thing too.
I'll believe it when I see it, but have seen nothing from any company that could possibly navigate these roads in the near future.
tblakely1357
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2016
What I've not seen addressed is the likelihood of these driverless vehicles being hacked for fun and profit. And it gives immense power to the government to control peoples movements.
Thorium Boy
1 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2016
And thereafter, the wonderful, wonderful STATE will take centralized control of cars the way they do trains, buses, etc. Truly utopia.
rgw
not rated yet Sep 01, 2016
Full automation will never work in the UK, our roads are too complex.
Small town streets need a lot of common sense to drive through and narrow winding country lanes are another thing too.


Not to mention that the Brits all drive on the wrong side of the road. Doesn't anyone remember when human lungs were collapsed by trains exceeding the impossible 60 mph barrier?

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