By now, most people who read automotive news publications have heard about the development of autonomous, or “self-driving,” cars. Several major car manufacturers including Volvo, Nissan and Ford are working to produce vehicles that can navigate roads by themselves and make crucial driving decisions like lane changes and the application of brakes during emergency situations. While autonomous vehicles cannot be operated on any public roads in Canada yet, they are currently being tested on public roads in four U.S. states.
One autonomous car developer has just announced an ambitious goal of creating a completely autonomous vehicle that can be used as a ride sharing and ride hailing service. The idea to combine autonomous vehicle technology with a ride sharing service like Uber is the brainchild of Ford Motor Company, the same car maker that brought us assembly line manufacturing more than 100 years ago. Ford plans to stay true to its tradition of mass vehicle production and make autonomous ride sharing vehicles available in high volumes.
The autonomous ride sharing service that is being developed by Ford is part of Ford Smart Mobility, and the company says that its vehicles will be available for rides by 2021. The self-driving car service will be a combination of autonomous vehicle technology, connectivity and analytics. The president and CEO of Ford, Mark Fields, told automotive news outlets that Ford Smart Mobility will make autonomous cars more widely available to consumers. With ride sharing capabilities, Ford’s autonomous cars can be used by anyone, not just wealthy people who can afford to purchase luxury vehicles like Tesla sedans.
Ford plans to use a vehicle for its ride sharing service that is totally self-driving, with no gas pedal, brake pedal or steering wheel. For more than 10 years, Ford has been researching and developing an autonomous car that it believes can be safe enough to carry paying passengers. The automaker currently owns a test fleet with 10 self-driving cars and plans to expand that fleet to 30 autonomous Fusion Hybrid sedans by the end of 2016. In 2017, Ford wants to have a test fleet of 90 autonomous vehicles zipping around public roads in Michigan, Arizona and California.
While other autonomous vehicle developers are working on cars that can be used by one owner, Ford is designing its autonomous vehicles specifically for public transportation. To accomplish its goals for Ford Smart Mobility, Ford is investing heavily in 3D mapping, advanced algorithms, radar and camera sensors. Ford has recently acquired several technology companies that specialize in these areas including Civil Maps, Nirenberg Neuroscience and SAIPS.
Though Ford Motor Company has long been headquartered in Michigan, the auto manufacturer is planning to base its autonomous vehicle development in California. The vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering at Ford told automotive news outlets that Ford’s current presence in Silicon Valley is an integral part of its autonomous vehicle development process. The automaker opened the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto in January 2015, and the research facility currently employs over 130 researchers, scientists and engineers. Ford is reportedly working with over 40 startups in Silicon Valley, and its Palo Alto facility is one of the largest automotive research centres in the region. While there are many automakers that are developing self-driving cars, it’s clear that Ford wants to be a leader in the move to make autonomous vehicles a regular means of transportation.
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