Whether you like it or not autonomous cars are coming, but exactly what the future holds when it comes to car ownership is not known. Tesla is expecting car sharing to play a huge role in future models, and Chrysler has teamed up with Google to work on the self-driving car program. The role of the car is changing, and big manufacturers are being forced to change with it. With this in mind, Ford has announced its intention to have a fully autonomous, ride-sharing vehicle ready for delivery in 2021.
To make sure its self-driving car is ready to roll by 2021, Ford is looking beyond Detroit. The company is doubling the size of its Palo Alto and Silicon Valley teams, as well as investing in four startups working on different self-driving technology projects, including advanced algorithm specialists, 3D-mapping experts and sensor-development companies.
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It's not just the number of people involved in development that's growing, the number of cars involved is also on the up. By the end of this year, Ford's fleet of autonomous Fusion Hybrids will include around 30 cars, with plans to triple that number by the end of 2017.
When it launches in 2021, the car will be capable of SAE Level 4 automation, which means that it will able to drive completely autonomously, without the need for driver input, in most conditions. Although SAE guidelines say Level 4 cars might not be able to operate in bad weather, Ford has been testing its cars in snowy and dark conditions, so it will be interesting to see whether the finished product will be sidelined when grey clouds start rolling in.
"Ford has been developing and testing autonomous vehicles for more than 10 years," says Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, 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."
Beyond the technology involved in creating an autonomous car, the other fascinating part of Ford's take on self-driving technology is the fact it's working on a ride-sharing model instead of private ownership. The company has said it's aiming to become a car manufacturer and a mobility company. Even if younger buyers might not have the same burning desire to own a car as generations past, they still need to get from A-to-B.
Ford President and CEO Mark Fields is aware of this fact, and says self-driving cars have great potential to get people moving, whether there's an expensive F-150 sitting in their driveway or not.
"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," says Ford president and CEO Mark Fields. "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."
A snippet of Mark Fields' presentation about the project is below.