Ford has revealed details of fully autonomous systems it expects will be utilised for new cars 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,’ said Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO.
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The autonomous vehicles won’t be sold to the public, but instead used in “ride-sharing” programs, allowing cars to be summoned by a user, transporting them to their destination, before being summoned by the next user. It’s very similar to the system proposed by Elon Musk in Tesla’s “master plan, part deux” - taking emphasis away from sole ownership of vehicles and putting them to greater use during times they might otherwise be parked.
The company has set up a base in Palo Alto - in the heart of Silicon Valley - and is working alongside four partner firms to assist in the development of autonomous vehicles. This development revolves around the advancement of core technologies. The cost of light detection and ranging sensors must fall to build affordable cars, artificial intelligence must improve to ensure decisions made by the system are akin to that of drivers, and mapping technology requires refining, allowing autonomous cars to accurately navigate roads.
Current autonomous vehicles such as the Tesla Model S have partial automation, rated at “level 2” according to a scale devised by the Society of Automotive Engineers: the execution of steering and acceleration/declaration can be performed by the autonomous system, while the driver must continue to monitor the driving environment at all times.
“Level 4”, or “high automation”, sees the latter responsibility shifted to the autonomous system, and this is what's proposed for Ford’s system. To expedite the development process of automous technology, Ford is expanding its autonomous test fleet to 30 cars, operating in California, Arizona and Michigan, with plans to triple it again next year.
Ford will hope to beat the competition as the race for the first publically available autonomous car hots up - with Tesla taking a very public lead on the rest of the industry so far.