Ford has announced its intention to produce a fully autonomous, or “SAE level 4-capable” (operable without a wheel of pedals), vehicle for commercial operations by 2021 as part of a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service.
“The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” said Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO.
The four key investments and collaborations that Ford is making involve expanding its research into advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors. The companies are:
•Velodyne, a Silicon Valley-based leader in light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors with whom Ford has a 10-year-long relationship that is currently aiming to commercialise LiDAR.
•SAIPS, a computer vision and machine learning company acquired by Ford to further enhance image and video processing through the use of algorithmic solutions and artificial intelligence.
•Nirenberg Neuroscience, a machine vision company founded by neuroscientist Dr Sheila Nirenberg, who cracked the neural code the eye uses to transmit visual information to the brain, that Ford has exclusively licensed agreement to bring humanlike learning to its virtual drivers.
•Civil Maps, a Berkeley-based company that Ford has invested in to further develop high-resolution 3D mapping capabilities to generate high-resolution maps for its autonomous vehicles.
Ford is also tripling its autonomous vehicle test fleet in 2016 to around 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans – largest such test fleet for any automaker – for tests on the roads around California, Arizona and Michigan, and plans to triple it yet again next year.
The construction of a dedicated campus in Palo Alto, is meanwhile set to add two buildings and 14,000m2 of work and lab space under the plans to double the local team by the end of 2017.