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Look – no hands at Ford by 2021
Ford lifts tech investment to deliver its first driverless vehicle within five years
17 Aug 2016
FORD Motor Company – the manufacturer that brought motoring to the masses with its T-Model more than a century ago – has announced plans for a high-volume driverless vehicle for ride-sharing or ride-hailing operations within five years.
And Ford Australia has confirmed that there is every chance the vehicle will be offered in Australia under the global Ford Smart Mobility strategy that aims to deliver new forms of transport in a world where fewer people might own cars.
Unlike many other “autonomous” vehicles being mooted today, the Ford car will dispense with driver controls such as the steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator, jumping straight into the deep end of completely automatic driving by 2021.
To help achieve this goal, the Blue Oval company has announced investments in four tech start-ups, as well as a major expansion of its Silicon Valley operations by the end of next year.
These will include a doubling of staff, from 130 to 260, and adding two more big buildings at the Palo Alto campus that was founded only 18 months ago.
Ford also announced plans to triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet this year, from 10 to 30 Ford Fusions, making it the biggest of any manufacturer.
Next year it plans to triple it again, to 90 vehicles, for its autonomous driving tests in California, Arizona and Michigan.
Announcing the plans overnight in the Silicon Valley, Ford president and CEO Mark Fields said automation would define the automobile over the next decade.
“We see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” he said. “We’re dedicated to putting on the road an autonomous vehicle that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people – not just those who can afford luxury vehicles.” Ford global product development executive vice president Raj Nair said Ford had been 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,” he said. “That is what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world.” To help develop the technology for its autonomous vehicle, Ford has announced investments in or collaborations with four tech companies involved in advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR (light detection and radar) and radar and camera sensors.
These companies are Silicon Valley-based Velodyne (LiDAR), Israel’s SAIPS (artificial intelligence and algorithms for image and video processing), New York-based Nirenberg Neuroscience (machine vision) and Californian 3D mapping specialist Civil Maps.
Ford now has alliances with 40 such technology companies.
Ford Australia communications and public affairs director Wes Sherwood told GoAuto that that while it was too early to talk about specifics of the fully autonomous vehicle being developed by Ford, it was a key part of the company’s global Ford Smart Mobility strategy.
“As one of the key mature markets within Ford, we absolutely will be pursuing smart mobility and that will include autonomous vehicles.” Mr Sherwood said that to make this happen, regulatory framework and other areas such as insurance needed to be addressed in parallel with technology advances.
He said Ford envisioned a world where car-sharing and ride-hailing would become more predominant as fewer people bought cars in a traditional sense.
Mr Sherwood said Ford Australia’s new partnership with car-sharing operator Carhood was part of this vision.
Ford announced in July that it will supply dozens of vehicles to Carhood for its airport parking and car-sharing service in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Carhood allows people to share their vehicles with other members instead of paying to park them at the airport.
The alliance is one of 25 mobility experiments underway globally at Ford.
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