TECH: Ford Promises Fully Autonomous Ridesharing Vehicles by 2021

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Ford Fusion Autonomous Testing

Autonomous vehicles are the next big thing, and although cars in the US still need to have a driver, plenty of cars already have some autonomous features. When you hear about self-parking, lane keeping assist, and automatic emergency braking, that’s autonomous technology at work. Ford promises to take it all the way with fully autonomous cars by the year 2021.

That’s a pretty bold claim as the summer of 2016 winds down and the news is full of Tesla’s issues with their Autopilot feature. There have been several reported crashes and one fatality involving cars using Autopilot with the challenge being how to determine who is at fault. Despite its name, the feature requires a driver with their hands on the wheel at all times and it looks like not everyone was following that guideline.

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This hasn’t deterred Ford. They plan to have a high-volume autonomous car in operation for ridesharing services by 2021. To do this, they’re working with four startups and doubling the team at its growing Palo Alto campus.

It’s a part of their recently launched Ford Smart Mobility initiative, which aims to put Ford at the front of autonomous vehicle development, connectivity, and mobility. They’re looking to morph themselves from solely a car company into something much broader. If traditional automakers become irrelevant with the shift in technology, Ford’s plan will ensure they will still be there.

Ford has already taken the lead in autonomous vehicle development with some notable firsts. They were the first company to test their autonomous cars at Mcity, the University of Michigan’s simulated test city. They were also the first to show these cars working in the snow and at night. They’re fully committed to this plan.

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Collaboration is key and Ford has picked four companies with expertise in different areas to pull off their plan. Velodyne specializes in LiDAR sensors, SAIPS specializes in vision and machine learning that will enhance vehicle artificial intelligence, Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC focuses on object recognition, and Civil Maps provides the 3D mapping crucial to helping cars know where they are on the road no matter the weather.

Combine those partnerships with the expansion of the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto and Ford just might manage to deliver their fully autonomous cars by 2021. The bigger question isn’t whether they can pull it off, but whether anyone wants these cars. The appeal is clear for ridesharing services, but do you want an autonomous car in your driveway? Ford is betting you do, but it’ll take some time before we know if they’re right.