When it comes to disruptive technologies in the automotive industry, many people believe that self-driving cars could be the best thing that happened to transportation since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Companies such as Uber and Lyft have made it clear that they’ll include autonomous cars in their fleet (although it’s not very clear when that will happen.) The same can be said about Google’s self-driving car, Tesla, and even Apple’s top secret iCar. All these companies are eager to disrupt the status quo of the automotive market, but few have given the public, a time frame for when they can expect to see autonomous cars on the roads.
Ford, on the other hand, is distancing itself from the pack and is not afraid to give the public a hard deadline: 2021. Ford announced in August, its plan to begin mass producing a fully autonomous vehicle in at least one city by this date. Ford said its self-driving cars would have level-four autonomy, meaning that they will not have a steering wheel and gas or brake pedals. In other words, a driver will not be required.
Before you jump from your seat with excitement, you should learn that the car is being produced for ride-hailing services. The company has to figure out how to hand the control of autonomous car to drivers safely. But, that doesn’t mean that you won’t see driverless vehicle anytime soon. The automaker said that we could expect to see self-driving cars at MSA Ford dealerships for consumers by 2025.
Driving into the Future
Five years doesn’t seem like enough time to create a fully-autonomous, fully-functioning car, but Ford is making a rapid progress. The company’s futuristic cars still have some limitation in the beginning, but that will change in the following years. For instance, the cars will only be able to operate in certain areas within the city in the first years. They will not operate in certain weather conditions or in locations that could affect how sensors collect data.
The automaker already had one of its autonomous vehicles successfully drive at night on a winding road without headlights. Ford was also the first automotive company to begin testing its driverless cars at Mcity, University of Michigan’s simulated urban environment. The company was also able to operate an autonomous car in snow conditions.
Ford announced that it plans to triple its self-driving vehicle test fleet, bringing the number to 30 autonomous cars.
According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are five levels of automation. Level zero means that there are no self-driving features while level four equates to a fully autonomous car. Ford said it was not interested in offering level three driving, where the vehicle is fully autonomous but it allows the driver to retake control of the car whenever they want.
To achieve level four autonomy, Ford has partnered with four key companies that are focusing their research on advanced algorithm, radar and camera sensors, and 3D mapping. The company also invested $75 million in Velodyne, a Silicon Valley-based company specialized in light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors. The goal, Ford said, is to mass-produce an affordable LiDAR sensor as soon as possible.
Ford has also invested in SAIPS, an Israel-based machine learning and computer vision company to enhance its expertise in artificial intelligence. The aim of this partnership is to help Ford’s self-driving cars learn and adapt to the surrounding environment.
Is the World Ready for Fully-Autonomous Vehicles?
Ford believes it is. There are more than 30.000 fatal car crashes per year in the United States, and about 90% of them are caused by human error. Autonomous driving technology can make the roads safer by allowing computers to take control. Moreover, driverless cars could put an end to traffic jams and could reduce pollution.
Ford also believes that self-driving cars could make transportation available to the elderly and infirm who are unable to drive themselves. The company also noted that the nature of vehicle ownership is changing. Millennials don’t care about owning cars and they rely on ride-sharing services instead. By producing driverless cars for ride-hailing services, Ford hopes to be part of the change. It’s no longer about how many cars you sell; it’s about what services you provide, and Ford seems to understand that very well.
The future of the autonomous industry is certainly bright. The dream to open an app, request a car, and get to your destination in a vehicle with no driver is closer than ever.