Ford is set to extend the reach of its existing autonomous vehicle program in the United States, with plans to start trialling self-driving technology in Europe.
The company has already set 2021 as a self-imposed deadline to have a fully-autonomous vehicle ready, using the vehicle as the basis of a ride-sharing service to demonstrate Ford’s advancements in the autonomous field.
Ford announced the European expansion of its self-driving program at an event in Germany, earmarking the differences in road networks and signage between Europe and the USA as one of the key reasons for the wider trial program.
“Rules of the road vary from country to country here, traffic signs and road layouts are different and drivers are likely to share congested roads with cyclists,” said Ford of Europe’s autonomous program leader, Thomas Lukaszewicz.
Ford has also recently announced that it will team up with Tata and Jaguar Land Rover on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications platforms which will enable faster and easier communication between cars about upcoming road hazards and traffic conditions - a crucial step in the autonomous program.
Unlike other manufacturers, which plan to scale-up self driving technology through so-called level-2 automation (driver assist technologies), level three (extended semi-automation) and level four (full automation), Ford will skip the level three step, claiming that it’s not reasonable to expect a human to resume control in situation the vehicle can’t manage itself.
That means that Ford’s eventual 2021 self-driving vehicle could be free of driver controls, relying entirely on its own ability to navigate, removing the need for pedals or a steering wheel.
Earlier this year Ford boosted its investment in its own Silicon Valley operations, as well as partnering with the University of Michigan and a number of other technology firms in a diverse range of fields including lidar, mapping, and visual recognition, to bring its autonomous program up to speed.