You’ve likely already seen the headlines: Ford this week announced its goal to put a fully-autonomous self-driving car on the road in 2021, initially for use in providing ride-hailing and ride-sharing services. Ford says that the car will be a full-volume production vehicle, capable of “Level 4” autonomous operation as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
(The SAEdefines Level 4 vehicle automation as “the driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task.” During the Ford’s press conference on Tuesday, CEO Mark Fields said that the vehicle would lack conventional manual controls such as a steering wheel or accelerator/brake pedals.)
Judging from the results of our reader poll, people have mixed feelings about the news, with the majority of respondents being split between “totally against,” and “so long as self-driving car technology is only deployed in ride-hailing and ride-sharing fleets.” Even still, it might be prudent to listen to the comments made by Ford CEO Mark Fields earlier this week, which can be heard in the video above.
According to Mr. Fields, Ford’s push to put a self-driving car on the road in 2021 is driven largely by a desire to provide more safety and accessibility to commuters.
“We see the autonomous car changing the way the world moves once again, and that’s because autonomous cars address a host of safety, social, and environmental issues that are important in the day,” he told the crowd last Tuesday. “Right now, there are more than 30,000 motor vehicle deaths per year here in the United States, and about 90 percent of those deaths are attributable to human error. Autonomous vehicles could drastically reduce [that] number of fatalities.”
Fields went on to speak about how the self-driving car could “open up opportunities for the elderly; for people with disabilities; and people not yet old enough – or even, you know, interested enough – to want to drive for themselves.”
To help Ford reaching its goal of having a fully-autonomous vehicle on the road in 2021, the automaker has invested heavily in relevant technologies. This includes a multi-million dollar investment in Velodyne LiDAR, whose sensors help power the Ford Fusion autonomous test car, as well as an investment in 3D-mapping company Civil Maps, an exclusive licensing agreement with machine vision company Nirenberg Neuroscience, and the acquisition of Israeli computer vision and machine learning company SAIPS. Ford also announced plans to double the size of its Palo Alto Research and Innovation team, and expand the R&I campus footprint from 30,000 to 180,000 square-feet.
For more, watch the full Ford press conference above.