SAN FRANCISCO: Ford Motor Company vowed on Tuesday to have self-driving cars on the road for ride-sharing services by the year 2021.
The US automaker said it was fueling the effort with ramped up investments in technology and by doubling the size of the team at its autonomous-car campus in Silicon Valley.
“We see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” said Ford chief executive 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.”
Baidu on board
As part of that mission, Ford joined Chinese internet giant Baidu to pump a combined $150 million into Velodyne, a US firm specializing in self-driving car sensors.
California-based Velodyne said the cash infusion will enable it to quickly expand the design and production of “LiDAR” high-performance sensors for autonomous vehicles.
“From the very beginning of our autonomous vehicle program, we saw LiDAR as key enabler due to its sensing capabilities and how it complements radar and cameras,” Ford executive vice president and chief technology officer Raj Nair said in a joint statement.
He described the investment in Velodyne as “a clear sign of our commitment to making autonomous vehicles available for consumers around the world.”
Baidu, an investor in on-demand ride service Uber, said in the statement that it was testing a fleet of self-driving vehicles in China as part of a vision for promoting safe use of the technology on a global scale.
“Baidu is developing autonomous vehicles with the intention to increase passenger safety and reduce traffic congestion and pollution in China,” said Baidu senior vice president and autonomous driving unit general manager Jing Wang.
“Our investment will accelerate our efforts in autonomous driving.”
The investment will help Velodyne ramp up production and drive down the cost of LiDAR sensors, which work like radar to detect objects but rely on lasers.
“We want the cost to be low enough to be used for all cars,” said Velodyne president of business development Marta Hall.
Ford’s first fully autonomous vehicle will not have a steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal, according to the carmaker. The self-driving vehicle is being designed for services such as on-demand ride services, Ford said.