FORD BRANCHES OUT TO AXE THE RIDE-SHARE STEERING WHEEL
Ford says it will have a high-volume fully autonomous vehicle designed for ride-hailing and ride-sharing services in commercial operation within five years.
The US company is investing in and working with four startup operations to improve its autonomous vehicle development, with a doubling of its Silicon Valley research team.
“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,” Ford president and CEO Mark Fields 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.”
Building on more than a decade’s research and development, Ford’s first fully autonomous vehicle will be a Society of Automotive Engineers-rated level 4-capable vehicle without a steering wheel or gas and brake pedals.
It is being designed for commercial mobility services, such as ride sharing and ride hailing.
Ford executive vice-president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer Raj Nair, said: “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.”
This year, Ford would triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet, with about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan. That would triple again next year.
To help it reach its target of an autonomous vehicle operating on the road by 2021, Ford this week announced four key investments and collaboration:
●Velodyne: Ford has invested in Velodyne, the leader in light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors. The aim is to quickly mass-produce a more affordable automotive LiDAR sensor.
●SAIPS: Ford has acquired the Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company to strengthen expertise in artificial intelligence and enhance computer vision.
●Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC: Ford has an exclusive licensing agreement with 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. This has led to a powerful machine vision platform for performing navigation, object recognition, facial recognition and other functions, with many potential applications. Ford says it’s partnership with Nirenberg Neuroscience will help bring humanlike intelligence to the machine learning modules of its autonomous vehicle virtual driver system.
●Civil Maps: Ford has invested in Berkeley, California-based Civil Maps to further develop high-resolution 3D mapping capabilities.