Ford Motor Company has announced that it intends to have a “high-volume, fully autonomous SAE level 4-capable vehicle in commercial operation in 2021 in a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service.”
Ford fully autonomous Fusion Hybrid research vehicle on streets of Dearborn, MI. Ford has been researching autonomous vehicles for more than a decade and currently tests fully autonomous vehicles in Michigan, Arizona and California, and will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet this year to have the largest of any automaker. Credit: Ford Motor Company.
To get there, the Dearborn, Mich.-based company said in a statement on Tuesday, the company is “investing in or collaborating with four startups” to enhance its autonomous vehicle development, doubling its Silicon Valley team and more than doubling its Palo Alto, Calif. campus.
“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, in the statement. “We’re dedicated to putting on the road an autonomous vehicle that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people – not just those who can afford luxury vehicles.”
Building on more than a decade of autonomous vehicle research and development, Ford’s first fully autonomous vehicle will be a Society of Automotive Engineers-rated level 4-capable vehicle without a steering wheel or gas and brake pedals, Ford explained. It is being specifically designed for commercial mobility services, such as ridesharing and ride-hailing, and will be available in high volumes.
To deliver an autonomous vehicle in 2021, Ford has announced four key investments and collaborations that are expanding its strong research in advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, light detection and ranging (LiDAR), and radar and camera sensors:
Velodyne: Ford has invested in Velodyne, the Silicon Valley-based company focused on LiDAR sensors, with an aim to “quickly mass-produce a more affordable automotive LiDAR sensor”;
SAIPS: Ford has acquired the Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company to further strengthen its expertise in artificial intelligence and enhance computer vision. SAIPS has developed algorithmic solutions in image and video processing, deep learning, signal processing and classification. This expertise will help Ford autonomous vehicles learn and adapt to the surroundings of their environment;
Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC: Ford has an exclusive licensing agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience, a machine vision company founded by neuroscientist Dr. Sheila Nirenberg, who 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,” Ford said. The automaker’s partnership with Nirenberg Neuroscience will help bring humanlike intelligence to the machine learning modules of its autonomous vehicle virtual driver system; and
Civil Maps: Ford has invested in Berkeley, Calif.-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, Ford reports, providing the automaker with another way to develop high-resolution 3D maps of autonomous vehicle environments.
This year, Ford will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet, 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, the company reported.
Ford added in the statement that it was the first automaker to begin testing its vehicles at Mcity, the University of Michigan’s simulated urban environment for connected and driverless vehicles. It was also the first automaker to publicly demonstrate autonomous vehicle operation in the snow and tests its driverless research vehicles at night, in complete darkness, as part of LiDAR sensor development.