Self-Driving Ford to Hit the Streets by 2021

On August 16th the Ford Motor Company announced its plans to bring an autonomous car to the market by 2021. The announcement accompanies Ford's recent investment of $75 million in Velodyne, a California company, which produces the lidar sensors used to detect objects. The vehicle is intended to be specifically designed for commercial mobility services, such as ride-sharing and ride-hailing. Ford will also be doubling its staff in Silicone Valley to make sure the project is a success.

“Ford is going to be mass-producing vehicles with full autonomy in five years,” CEO Mark Fields said at an event in Silicon Valley that was broadcast online. “There’s going to be no steering wheel, there’s not going to be a gas pedal, there’s not going to be a brake pedal and of course a driver is not going to be required.”

Ford is also making a substantial investment in Civil Maps, a company, which has developed very efficient 3-D mapping technology. Chinese search engine Baidu (their equivalent of Google) will also be investing $75 million in Velodyne. In an effort to "double-down" on the technology needed to pull this off, Ford has also inquired Israel-based SAIPS, a company specializing in technology which helps vehicles adapt to their surroundings and learn driving patterns. Ford has also reached an exclusive licensing agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience which has developed "machine vision," a system which will help the on-board computers "see" their surroundings.

The plans set by Ford will place the car at "Level 4" of the SAE International autonomy rating. This rating means that a driver is not required for nearly all functions, however the steering wheel, brakes and gas are still in place (absent in Level 5). This strategy differs from GM and Tesla which are taking a stepping-stone approach, working up the scale. “We abandoned the stepping-stone approach of driver-assist technologies,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief, “and decided we were going to take the full leap to deliver a fully autonomous, Level 4 capable vehicle.”

Will Ford be able to pull it off? Well we'll all know for sure in 5 short years. Stay tuned for more as this story develops.


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