Autonomous vehicles seem to be the way of the future, and Ford is doubling down on their self-driving investments. The automaker announced an ambitious today plan to have a fully-autonomous ride-sharing fleet on city streets in 2021. In addition, Ford is increasing the size of its Silicon Valley staff and investing in or collaborating with a number of tech startups in order to bring their autonomous fleet to life.
Although we don’t know what the new autonomous fleet will look like, Ford’s vehicle will meet the SAE level 4 rating, meaning it will lack a steering wheel, gas, or brake pedals, much like the Local Motors Olli. The vehicle will be designed from the outset as a commercial product meant for large-scale fleet sales.
The automaker has been working on autonomous technology for years, and, since the beginning of 2016, has been significantly ramping up its monetary and research investment. In April, Ford announced a partnership with Uber and Lyft to develop safe, self-driving vehicles. Ford’s partnership with LiDAR manufacturer Velodyne has been particularly fruitful. Ford and Chinese search-engine Baidu are investing another $150 million into the company.
Because Velodyne remains independent, Ford’s investment could help bring LiDAR tech to other automakers, if Velodyne decided to share the tech. Ford has been testing LiDAR on an ever increasing fleetof Fusions in Michigan, California, and Arizona. The company believes LiDAR is the answer to some of the current limitations of autonomous technology.
In addition to Velodyne, Ford has invested in 3D mapping company Civil Maps and acquired Israeli computer vision and machine learning company SAIPS. It has also signed an exclusive agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC, a machine vision company.