If you thought Google’s steering wheel-less Prototype automobiles were a vision of a far-off future, you’re in for a astound. That’s because Ford Motor Company announced Tuesday that in the year 2021, it will have a high-volume, fully autonomous vehicle for ride sharing available not just to luxury customers but to everyone.
What’s more, the vehicle won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedals: it will be fully autonomous.
Ford’s fully autonomous car will fall under Level 4 autonomy on the Society of Automotive Engineers( SAE) international standard for automated driving. For comparison, Tesla’s Autopilot and Mercedes’ Drive Pilot are Level 2 autonomy.
Generally, Level 4 has been defined by an autonomous car’s ability to drive itself in some environments, like on freeway onramps or during low-speed traffic jams. Instead, Ford is defining Level 4 a bit differently for its yet-unnamed 2021 vehicle autonomous vehicle.
The fully autonomous Ford will be able to handle all driving duties in a predetermined area an area that’s already been mapped with high-definition 3D technology.
The Ford won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedals
That means you won’t be allowed to hail a ride from one of these cars and run anywhere merely in the areas the Ford has been programmed to run. However, where it does take you, it’ll be able to handle anything the world can throw at it. Or, at least, it better. Because you can’t intervene in the driving at all.
This leads us to the second part of Ford’s announcement: its further investment in four companies championing technologies key to fully automated driving.
Ford announced earlier Tuesday that it has invested in Velodyne, a light detecting and ranging( LiDAR) sensor producer based in Silicon Valley. LiDAR has long been seen as a key component in a fully autonomous vehicle. Ford also acquired SAIPS, an Israeli company working with AI and deep computer learn, which, too, will help its automobiles handle any situation they may encounter.
An exclusive licensing agreement has also been announced between Ford and Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC, which will help Ford’s autonomous cars identify objects on the road. Lastly, Ford has invested in Civil Maps, a Berkeley-based company pioneering 3D mapping tech the tech that will be the key to the vehicle’s Level 4 independence rating.
Although five years seems far off, for Ford, it’s a blink of an eye. That’s OK because the carmaker has been working on autonomous driving for more than 10 years and it has a lot more to accomplish in the next five.
By the end of this year, for example, Ford will have the largest autonomous test vehicle fleet of any automaker. In fact, it will have around 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan.
In conjunction with that expansion of its autonomous driving fleet and its tech investments, Ford is also doubling the size of its Palo Alto campus.
Of course, since the promised vehicle is five years off, Ford has not chose what platform the fully autonomous auto will ride on. Nor has it determined whether it will be a sedan, hatchback or SUV. Moreover, Ford isn’t sure whether its fully autonomous vehicle is likely to be powered by a gasoline, hybrid or fully electric powertrain.
Intriguingly, those aren’t the only unknowns with this project. Ford isn’t sure how it will offer the ride-sharing vehicle to customers, be it through the FordPass app or with another ride-sharing platform. Clearly, there’s a lot of details to be worked out in the next half decade.
While the fully autonomous Ford will start off as a ride-share-only vehicle, as the costs of the technology comes down, it’s plausible that you might be able to buy one for yourself. The tech begs the issues to, though: Would you even require or want to own a self-driving automobile?
No matter, though, in just five years, you’ll probably be able to hail a ride in one whether you own it or not.