Ford is making several investments and acquiring startup companies in order to meet the deadline
It seems as if car manufacturers are focusing more towards self-driving cars with Ford Motors being the latest entrant in the autonomous car category. Today, Ford announced that it will be able to operate and manufacture fully autonomous cars in the next five years. These cars will not include a steering wheel, gas or brake pedals.
Ford plans to first use its driverless cars commercially in the ride sharing and hailing industry. Later on, they will be made available for private use as well but it hasn’t been revealed when the company plans to do so.
Ford did not specify if it will form any partnership with ride hailing companies, such as Uber or Lyft for its autonomous cars. Its rival, General Motors, partnered up with Lyft and invested $500 million in the company. It also acquired Cruise Automation, a self-driving software company.
“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 Ford president and CEO, Mark Fields. “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.”
Ford, which wants to offer self-driving cars once it has mastered the technology, seems to be following in Google’s footsteps. The tech giant’s autonomous cars are part of the Ford Smart Mobility program through which the automaker aims to become the market leader in autonomous vehicles alongside mobility, data and analytics, and customer experience
As planned, Ford will increase its test fleet of autonomous vehicles to 30 this year. It has also planned to triple the test fleet by next year, which means we will see about 90 Fusion Hybrid sedans on the streets of Arizona, California and Michigan. Currently, the automaker has a fleet of about dozen cars that are in the testing phase.
To achieve full autonomy, Ford will make multiple investments and even acquire certain companies in the process. The automaker along with Chinese search giant, Baidu, will invest $150 million in Velodyne, a startup company that makes lasers to better guide self-driving cars. Both companies will invest $75 million each, while Velodyne will use these funds to expand its production and cut down its laser cost.
To improve its navigation system, Ford will invest in Civil Maps to bolster its three-dimensional mapping technology. It has struck an exclusive agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC, a machine vision company, to bring human intelligence into machine learning for its virtual driver system.
Ford has also acquired an Israel based startup company, Saips, to improve its artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision. It now plans to double its operation in the Silicon Valley. The automaker will add two new buildings and a new work and lab space of 150,000 square feet with plans to double its Palo Alto team by next year.
The autonomous car industry is growing fast as every car manufacturer is going in that direction. Last month, BMW announced to roll out its autonomous car by 2021 in collaboration with Intel and Mobileye. Tesla and Mercedes have planned to add self-driving features to their cars, while Google and Apple are also working on their respective projects.