Ford Plans Self-Driving Cars By 2021

Elon Musk and Tesla are leading the charge for self-driving cars, but other manufacturers are not far behind. On August 16, Ford announced that it plans to introduce a “high-volume” fleet of self-driving cars by 2021. The cars will not be for sale to the public, at least not yet. Instead, they will be part of a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service. Like the well known Google pod cars, they will have no steering wheel, no accelerator, and no brake pedal.

Ford self driving car

Ken Washington, Ford’s VP of research and advanced engineering, tells Business Insider the cars will be limited to a geo-fenced area that has been extensively mapped using digital technology. “We plan to initially provide this service in urban areas and then scale up to other areas,” Washington said. “Our focus, of course, first is North America. But our long-term strategy and ambitions is to provide this service all over the world.”

Ford has not yet decided where to offer its self-driving cars first. Geography and weather conditions are also taken into account when making that decision, Washington says, but he adds that Ford is talking to a number of cities as part of its smart mobility strategy. Columbus, Ohio, might be a likely target, since it has recently been selected by the US Department of Transportation as the winner of its Connected City contest. However, autonomous driving experts say that a place without snow (like Florida) is likely to be first.

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Washington declined to say what the self-driving Fords would look like, but did say they could be built on the same platform as Ford’s Fusion hybrid, which is the vehicle that the company uses in its autonomous fleet. “Right now we have quite a bit of experience working with our hybrid Fusion platform. But we are leaders in plug-in hybrid technology and No. 2 in electrified vehicle platforms, and so we have lots of choices as to what platform to provide this on,” he said. “We haven’t selected a final platform for the vehicle that we plan to introduce in 2021, but we certainly have plenty of experience with battery electric-vehicle platforms as well as plug-in hybrid.” In other words, it sounds like the car design will have a plug.

The self-driving Fords are expected to incorporate lidar technology. Lidar is like radar except it uses lasers instead of radio waves. Ford and Chinese technology company Baidu have recently invested $150 million in Velodyne, a company that makes lidar sensors for self-driving cars. Ford is also investing in other tech start-ups and expanding its own technology team headquartered in California’s Silicon Valley.

→ Related: Tesla & Google Disagree About LIDAR — Which Is Right?

Lidar is a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to map out the world around it. The light reflected from objects in the path of the laser beam on helps the car determine the distance between itself and its environment. it is highly accurate and enables cars to locate their position on digital maps almost perfectly. Google uses lidar for its self-driving cars.

After a Tesla Model S was spotted near Tesla headquarters last month with a lidar array mounted to its roof, there was speculation that the company would add lidar sensors to its autonomous driving suite known as Autopilot. But Elon Musk says he prefers radar because of its ability to penetrate fog, smoke, haze, rain, and snow. Lidar, being based on light waves, may be left digitally blinded by such obstructions.

Ford presently has about 30 self-driving cars on the road performing testing duties. It says it plans to triple that number by 2017.

Source: Business Insider | Photo Credit: Ford

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.