Automotive giant Ford has outlined its plans to manufacture a fleet of driverless, autonomous cars by 2021.
The cars would be supplied to ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber, which are themselves working on autonomous driving technologies.
The plans were announced this week by Ford CEO Mark Fields, who said he wants to double the amount of investment in the company’s Silicon Valley research centres.
While Ford has been working on self-driving car technologies for the better part of a decade, this is the first occasion the company has announced a release date for autonomous vehicles.
The cars will be free of a steering wheel and pedals, and will initially be used exclusively in the ride-sharing market, rather than offered to consumers.
“Vehicle autonomy could have as big an impact on society as the Ford mass assembly line had over 100 years ago.”
But Ford will be fighting in a competitive market. Google has already been actively testing its self-driving cars on Californian roads, and BMW and Apple are also gearing up for autonomous automobiles.
In the UK, Jaguar Land Rover said it is to start testing self-driving cars on British roads, and plans to roll out a fleet of more than 100 research vehicles by 2020.
The company plans to roll out the first of the test vehicles by as early as the end of this year, and will test them on a 41-mile route close to its headquarters in Coventry. The route consists of motorways and urban roads.
However, Ford believes a number of investments can give it the edge, with the company ploughing money alongside China’s Baidu into Velodyne, a company that makes laser-based guidance technology. Ford has also purchased Israel’s SAIPS, a machine learning startup.
Earlier this year, Ford also invested in cloud company Pivotal, which already works with Ford on a number of smart car projects. Ford uses Pivotal’s Big Data Suite in its connected vehicle platforms, and Ford’s FordPass, which allows drivers to monitor their cars from a mobile app, is also built on Pivotal Software’s technology. The company has also aligned with Google to help lobby the US government to produce ‘rules of the road’ for autonomous vehicles.
Ford said that it will begin road tests in Arizona and California by 2017.
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