Ford Motor Company is doubling down on its pursuit of autonomous “self-driving” technology, having just announced a sizable investment in LIDAR company Velodyne, as well as plans to double the size of its Research and Innovation Center team by the end of 2017.
LIDAR – or LIght Detection And Ranging – is a technology analogous to RADAR, using light waves rather than radio waves to detect objects and map an area in three dimensions. Multiple LIDAR sensors are employed on each of Ford’s autonomous test vehicles, assisting the vehicle both in object-avoidance, and in recognizing its position within the driving environment.
Ford – along with Chinese search engine Baidu Inc. – are investing a combined $150 million into Velodyne, which manufactures the LIDAR sensors used by Ford’s fleet of autonomous Fusion sedans. The fresh injection of capital “will accelerate the cost reduction and scaling of Velodyne’s industry-leading LiDAR sensors, making them widely accessible and enabling mass deployment of fully autonomous vehicles,” said Velodyne in a statement. “We are determined to help improve the goal of safety for automotive vehicles as soon as possible, as well as empower the efficiency autonomous systems offer.”
Ford’s planned expansion of its Silicon Valley team also has accelerating the development of self-driving car technology as its primary target. The automaker will increase the total size of its Research and Innovation Center from 30,000 square-feet to 180,000 and add some 130 new team members by the end of 2017.
All of this is being carried out with the intent of enabling the introduction of a full-volume, fully-autonomous Ford vehicle for use in ride-sharing and taxi fleets in 2021.
“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,” says Ford President and CEO Mark Fields. “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.”