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Ford’s Exclusive Deal With Nirenberg Neuroscience

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Last month, when Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields announced the automaker’s ambitious plans to put a volume-production autonomous vehicle on the road sometime in 2021, he also made public a handful of new investments and partnerships.

One of these is an exclusive licensing agreement with machine-vision company Nirenberg Neuroscience.

If you’re wondering why an automaker is counting on the technologies of a New York-based neuroscience company, the answer is that Dr. Sheila Nirenberg’s work decoding the mysteries of human vision could help autonomous vehicles to more effectively perceive the environment, improving their ability to read and react to various situations. In fact, Nirenberg has already created artificial intelligence vision software that’s being deployed in the field of robotics to help automatons with navigation, obstacle avoidance, and identification.

While it’s true that Dr. Nirenberg wasn’t the first to “teach” a robot to see, her system is the closest to mimicking how the human brain receives and processes images, making it very efficient. Nirenberg Neuroscience claims on its website that its learning algorithms are much lighter than comparable algorithms from others, with as much as “1000-fold fewer [operations] for several applications such as face feature detection, pedestrian detection, and navigation.”

According to The Detroit News, Ford VP of Research and Advanced Engineering Dr. Ken Washington referred to Nirenberg’s technology a sort of “filtering mechanism.” He said that Dr. Nirenberg has been giving talks to Ford employees about her research, teaching them about her company’s algorithms for the past several months.

“Humans see the world around us and we ignore the stuff that doesn’t matter,” Washington said. “Dr. Nirenberg’s technology holds the promise to apply that kind of filtering to our machine-learning algorithms.”

Ford’s exclusive arrangement with the neuroscience company could give the automaker a distinct edge when it comes to teaching its autonomous cars to read situations, and react appropriately.

“We’re delighted,” concluded Dr. Washington. “We think this could be game-changing and provide a capability that will really be pretty important for our vehicles.”

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Aaron Brzozowski is a writer and motoring enthusiast from Detroit with an affinity for '80s German steel. He is not active on the Twitter these days, but you may send him a courier pigeon.

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