An offer of a fully automated driverless vehicle for commercial ride-sharing in 2021 is being planned by the automaker, Ford Motor Co. On Tuesday, it announced to expand more of its efforts in driverless cars and ride sharing, the two areas where rivals have already made an intrusion.
Further, it rolled out that Ford is hiking investments in Silicon Valley technology firms, tripling its investment in semi-autonomous systems, and more than doubling the size of its Palo Alto research team while expanding its campus in Silicon Valley, Chief Executive Mark Fields was noted on saying about the development process of self-driving cars.
Furthermore, at the company’s Palo Alto research and development lab Field said they’re not in a race to be first, maintaining that he was not concerned that rival General Motors had made a high-stakes play in ride services with its $500 million investment in Left in January. Ford is not yet aware of having partnered with Uber, Lyft or others in future, while Fields declared that all options are open and on the table. About Ford, he said that he may not need a partner in rolling out such services on its own.
So, many crucial strategy details are still left undecided due to Ford’s announcement. Similarly, Ford’s vice president of research, Ken Washington said it was important to show that Ford did not leave the intention weak for winning in this space despite the key elements that are still unknown. Washington says, “We’re saying to partners, we are the winning partner. It’s not a hollow promise, it’s a real intent”.
According to Ford Chief Technical Officer, Raj Nair, a similar driverless car without steering wheel or pedals will not likely be offered by the company to consumers before or after 2025. Launching a self-driving car first for ride-sharing is a better way to reach the mass market and make the cars more affordable.
The development of an incremental autonomous system that would occasionally require drivers to take the wheel instead of a commitment to developing a fully self-driving car which is not intended by Ford, stated in a philosophy shared by Alphabet’s Google. Fields says, “We abandoned the stepping-stone approach”, further, he said there are too many risks involved in the safe “hand-over” of driving responsibility between car and driver. A similar instance is there of the death incident of a Tesla driver in May, in which the company’s “Autopilot” system was used by him. It happened because he had his hands off the wheel and has underestimated or even ignored the confusion over drivers’ responsibilities in a semi-autonomous car.
As Ford also said, along with Baidu Inc – China’s largest internet company it had jointly invested $150 million in Velodyne that makes laser-based sensors, a major building block in those self-driving cars, while, as per Nair, Ford’s investment was $75 million. Also recently an investment was made by Ford in Silicon Valley firm particularly in Civil Maps, for advanced mapping for self-driving cars. Similarly, Ford rivals like General Motors and Uber Technologies, are also developing self-driving vehicles which can be used for riding services.
According to Ford, the deployment of 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid prototypes is expected this year, and 90 next year. Nair held that Ford’s investments for its acquisition of SAIPS, an Israeli machine learning startup, having the tools in place to develop a fully driverless vehicle, but said “there’s still a lot of engineering development” before 2022.