Ford has announced that it is targeting to mass produce fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels, pedals and gas tanks by 2021, with the vehicles to be used by ride-sharing and ride-hailing services.
To help hasten the development of the company's self-driving cars, Ford CEO Mark Fields revealed that the company is increasing its investments in Silicon Valley tech firms. Ford will triple its investment in semi-autonomous driving systems, and will double the number of members in its research team in Palo Alto to 300 in addition to expanding its Silicon Valley facilities by 150,000 square feet.
"This is one example of how we're thinking about expanding our business into mobility more broadly," Fields said, adding that by taking drivers out of the equation in ride-sharing, the economics for both companies and consumers improve.
While the company's announcement will pit it against rival car companies such as Volvo and BMW in the race to release a self-driving car into the market, Fields said at Ford's research and development laboratory in Palo Alto that the company is not looking to be the first to do so.
Fields added that he was not concerned with the move of General Motors to enter the ride-sharing services field with its investment worth $500 million into Lyft early in the year. That investment was also connected to using self-driving vehicles for the industry.
Ford is open to all options for now, as the company does not yet know whether it would partner with Uber, Lyft or any other ride-sharing services company. There is also the option of not teaming up with another company on the endeavor, with Ford rolling out its own ride-hailing service.
Another move that Ford recently made to help get out its self-driving car by 2021 is the joint $150 million investment with Chinese search company and Uber China investor Baidu in Velodyne LiDAR. The startup has been working on LiDAR (light, detection and ranging) systems since 2005, with the company looking to accelerate the cost reduction and scaling of its LiDAR technology for mass deployment in fully autonomous vehicles.
Ford also recently made a $6.6 million investment in 3D mapping startup Civil Maps, which uses artificial intelligence and local vehicle-based processing to convert data coming from car sensors into meaningful map information to be used by self-driving cars.
With all these investments, Ford is focused on the development of a fully autonomous vehicle that is able to handle all aspects of driving within certain driving modes and conditions, which is considered to be Level 4 by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Whether the company is able to meet its goal of releasing the vehicle by 2021, however, remains to be seen.