Ford’s global CEO Mark Fields could not have put it any clearer: “Ford is going to be mass-producing vehicles with full autonomy in five years,” he said. “There’s going to be no steering wheel, there’s not going to be a gas pedal, there’s not going to be a brake pedal and of course a driver is not going to be required.”
Mr Fields was in Silicon Valley, California – headquarters of the world’s IT industry - where he announced a doubling of its workforce there as the company presses ahead with its autonomous vehicle plans.
He also announced Ford and Chinese search engine company Baidu Inc are investing $US75 million into Velodyne, a manufacturer of lidar sensors (an object detection device which works with cameras and radar to give vehicles a 360-degree view) and 3-D mapping company Civil Maps.
As well, Ford has purchased SAIPS, a company headquartered in Israel which specializes in the development of ‘smart’ cars and has secured a licensing agreement with another specialist company called Nirenberg Neuroscience.
But let’s just hit the brakes there for a second: don’t expect a flood of autonomous Ford vehicles in showroom anytime soon. Ford says its autonomous vehicles will be produced for what the Americans are calling ‘ride hailing’ services in major metropolises.
This news does confirm Ford is fast-tracking its autonomous driving technology as its first vehicles are targeting ‘Level 4’ autonomy which means the vehicle is fully automated and a driver is not necessary.
So Ford will not follow the likes of General Motors and Tesla in rolling-out partially autonomous vehicles (GM hopes to introduce a fleet of autonomous Chevrolet Volts within 12 months which will be tested by on-demand ride-hailing company Lyft – in which GM has purchased a 9.0 per-cent stake).
Rival brand Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is working with Google to develop 100 autonomous mini-vans.
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