The automaker knows that autonomous cars are the future, and it wants to be a big player.
At a media event in Silicon Valley today, Ford’s CEO Mark Fields announced the automaker’s plans to mass-produce driverless cars by 2021.
The cars would be aimed mainly at “ride-hailing and ride-sharing” services, suggesting it wants to compete head-to-head with General Motors, which recently invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Lyft.
Its cars will have no steering wheel, Fields said.
Ford CTO Raj Nair explained that the company’s roadmap for autonomous vehicles involves both of what he called mediated perception—which compares information coming in from various sensors to highly detailed maps—and direct perception, which directly understands the surroundings and vehicle’s location.
Nair also said that in the first few years of fully autonomous vehicles, the economics won’t support individual ownership. That’s why Ford wants to focus on ride-sharing and ride-hailing services. That’s where “it gets really exciting,” Nair said.
To accomplish its autonomous car goals, Ford is working with four technology companies: LiDAR developer Velodyne–which announced $150 million in funding today from Ford and Baidu; Israeli computer vision and machine learning developer SAIPS; Machine vision developer Nirenberg Neuroscience; and high-resolution 3D mapping company Civil Maps.
Today’s news was hand-in-hand with Ford’s announcement that it is expanding its Silicon Valley innovation center from a single building to a 150,000-square-foot “campus,” essentially three total buildings in Palo Alto, just down the road from Nest, Xerox Parc, VMWare, and other big technology companies. Ford said it is doubling the size of its Silicon Valley team.