Ford Targets Autonomous Driving for 2021

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【Summary】Ford is stepping up its autonomous-car game.

Original Timothy Healey    Jan 10, 2017 6:55 AM PT
Ford Targets Autonomous Driving for 2021

DETROIT – Ford is working to bring an autonomous car to mainstream markets by 2021.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based company unveiled its updated autonomous version of the self-driving Fusion Hybrid this month in time for both the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The updated car uses the same autonomous-driving platform as before, but it also has stronger processing power than before, thanks to new computer hardware. Ford claims its electrical controls are closer to being production ready, and some adjustments to the sensors, including their placement on the vehicle, allows the car to better "see" its surroundings.

The lidar sensors have undergone a radical change – they are redesigned to look "sleeker" while having a field of vision that's more targeted, which allows it to use two sensors instead of four, without sacrificing any data. The virtual driver platform is also updated.

Upgrading the car is just part of Ford's quest to have a fully autonomous car ready for ride-sharing duty by 2021. Ford is also investing in or collaborating with four startups while also doubling the size of its team in Silicon Valley and the size of its campus in Palo Alto, California. This is all with the intent of getting a level-4 autonomous car – meaning one that's fully autonomous – to be commercially viable for a ride-sharing or ride-hailing service. This vehicle would not need a steering wheel or gas and brake pedals.

"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 a 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."

This is all part of a plan called Ford Smart Mobility. The plan is for Ford to be a leader when it comes to autonomous vehicles along with connectivity, mobility, data, analytics and consumer experience.

"Ford has been developing and testing autonomous vehicles for more than 10 years," Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer, said in a statement. "We have a strategic advantage because of our ability to combine the software and sensing technology with the sophisticated engineering necessary to manufacture high-quality vehicles. That is what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world."

Ford is looking to triple its fleet of self-driving cars to about 30, which it claims would be the largest fleet among automakers. The cars will be tested in Arizona, California and Michigan. The automaker wants to triple its fleet again next year.

The four startups that Ford is working with includes: Velodnye, which builds sensors and lidar systems for autonomous cars; SAIPS, a machine-learning company; Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC, a machine-vision company; and 3D mapping company Civil Maps.

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