Ford Motor wants a high-volume, fully autonomous SAE level 4-capable vehicle in commercial operation in 2021 for a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service. The car will lack a steering wheel or gas and brake pedals. It is being specifically designed for commercial mobility services, such as ride-sharing or ride-hailing, and will be available in high volumes. Ford is investing in or collaborating with four startups to enhance its autonomous vehicle development. (See Society of Automotive Engineers-rated level 4-capable vehicle)
“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 Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO.
Autonomous vehicles in 2021 are part of Ford Smart Mobility, the company’s plan to be a leader in autonomous vehicles, as well as in connectivity, mobility, the customer experience, and data and analytics.
This year, Ford will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet to be the largest test fleet of any automaker – bringing the number to about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan, with plans to triple it again next year.
To deliver an autonomous vehicle in 2021, Ford is making four key investments and collaborations that are expanding its research in advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors:
- Velodyne: Ford has invested in Velodyne, the Silicon Valley-based company working on light detection and ranging – LiDAR- sensors. The aim is to quickly mass-produce a more affordable automotive LiDAR sensor. Ford has a longstanding relationship with Velodyne. Ford was among the first to use LiDAR for both high-resolution mapping and autonomous driving beginning more than 10 years ago.
- SAIPS: Ford has acquired the Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company to increase its expertise in artificial intelligence and enhance computer vision. SAIPS has developed algorithms in image and video processing, deep learning, signal processing and classification.
- Nirenberg Neuroscience: Ford has an exclusive licensing agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience, a machine vision company founded by neuroscientist Dr. Sheila Nirenberg. She is said to have cracked the neural code the eye uses to transmit visual information to the brain. This has led to a powerful machine vision platform for performing navigation, object recognition, facial recognition and other functions, with many potential applications. For example, it is already being applied by Dr. Nirenberg to develop a device for restoring sight to patients with degenerative diseases of the retina. Ford says its partnership with Nirenberg will help bring humanlike intelligence to the machine learning modules of its autonomous vehicle virtual driver system.
- Civil Maps: Ford has invested in Berkeley, California-based Civil Maps to further develop high-resolution 3D mapping capabilities. Civil Maps has pioneered an innovative 3D mapping technique that is scalable and more efficient than existing processes. This provides Ford another way to develop high-resolution 3D maps of autonomous vehicle environments.