Ford sets ambitious target for autonomous ride sharing

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Ford says it intends to have a high-volume, fully autonomous vehicle in commercial operation in 2021 in a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service.

To get there, the company is investing in or collaborating with four startups to enhance its autonomous vehicle development, doubling its Silicon Valley team and more than doubling its Palo Alto campus.

“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.

“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.”

Autonomous vehicles in 2021 are part of Ford Smart Mobility, the company’s plan to be a leader in autonomous vehicles, as well as in connectivity, mobility, the customer experience and data and analytics.

Building on more than a decade of autonomous vehicle research and development, Ford said its 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 specifically designed for commercial mobility services, such as ride sharing and ride hailing, and will be available in high volumes.

The automaker added it would triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet this year to be the largest test fleet of any automaker – bringing the number to about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan, with plans to triple it again next year.

To hit its target, Ford announced four key investments and collaborations that will expand its work in advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors:

In addition to a new investment in Velodyne, the Silicon Valley-based leader in light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors, Ford has also acquired the Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company SAIPS, inked a licensing agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC and invested in Berkeley, California-based Civil Maps to further develop high-resolution 3D mapping capabilities.

Ford also said it would expand its current Silicon Valley operations and create a dedicated campus in Palo Alto.

“Our presence in Silicon Valley has been integral to accelerating our learning and deliverables driving Ford Smart Mobility,” said Ken Washington, Ford Motor Company vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering.

“Our goal was to become a member of the community. Today, we are actively working with more than 40 startups, and have developed a strong collaboration with many incubators, allowing us to accelerate development of technologies and services.”

Since the new Ford Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto opened in January 2015, the facility has rapidly grown to be one of the largest automotive manufacturer research centres in the region. Today, it is home to more than 130 researchers, engineers and scientists, who are increasing Ford’s collaboration with the Silicon Valley ecosystem.

Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto’s multi-disciplinary research and innovation is the newest of nearly a dozen of Ford’s global research, innovation, IT and engineering centers.