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Ford Plans to Deploy 100 Self-driving Vehicles in 2019

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【Summary】Investors clearly bought into the news, as the auto company’s stock rose by seven percent after the bullish announcement. Ford will start testing autonomous vehicles in a third city in the coming months.

Michael Cheng    May 06, 2019 12:00 PM PT
Ford Plans to Deploy 100 Self-driving Vehicles in 2019

Ford has ambitious plans to overtake its competitors in the autonomous vehicles sector. During a Q1 earnings call, the car manufacturer revealed it will deploy 100 driverless cars on the road by the end of the year.

Investors clearly bought into the news, as the auto company's stock rose by seven percent after the bullish announcement.

To support its plans, the carmaker reiterated intentions to expand self-driving trials. Ford will start testing autonomous vehicles in a third city in the coming months. So far, it is actively conducting tests in Miami and Washington DC.

Accruing Complex Miles

The trials will focus on accruing driverless miles in complicated environments, which is top priority for its developers. Examples of problematic scenarios for autonomous vehicles on public roads include: bad weather, changing roads, frequent pedestrian crossings, merging lanes and more.

According to Marcy Klevorn, Ford's President of Mobility, its competitors have been taking the easy route, by testing their driverless platforms in open locations with limited obstacles. Through testing in challenging conditions, the business believes its autonomous vehicles will be in a better position to take on difficult driving situations and emergencies.

"We laughed that if autonomy was only destined for the L.A. freeways, you don't have to deal with dogs and baseballs running across them, and no need to recognize that," said Jim Hackett, CEO of Ford, during the company's Q1 earnings call.

"We've opted into some really difficult settings to prove this capability."

Argo AI, a startup heavily backed by Ford through a joint-venture agreement, will likely play a front-seat role in deploying the automaker's autonomous vehicles. The startup has a reliable track record, with trials launched in Detroit, Miami and Washington DC. Earlier this year, Argo AI secured a permit to test driverless cars in California. The approval, which was issued by California's Department of Motor Vehicles, enables the startup to deploy one self-driving car and two drivers.

Ford's autonomous cars will leverage Argo AI's robust HD maps and virtual-driving system, consisting of LIDAR, cameras and radar. Such features are designed to make the vehicles safer and more efficient on the road.

Ford's Plan of Action

Can Ford really pull it together and meet its goal? Based on the automaker's recent activities, the answer could be yes. Ford is making big changes to its factories, as well as its research and development programs, to accommodate self-driving cars. In Michigan, the business is in the process of building a new manufacturing center specifically for converting commercial-grade hybrid units to driverless vehicles.  

Funds for the highly anticipated automotive plant will come from Ford's massive $900 million investment, which was announced in 2017. An essential part of the restructuring plan is the creation of 900 new jobs by 2023.

"This facility will be about more than just putting the brains into these autonomous vehicles," said Joe Hinrichs, President of Global Operations at Ford.

"We will use the AV production center to upgrade the interiors and add the technology customers will want for a particular self-driving model."

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