Talk about a bold statement and commitment. Ford Motor Company President and CEO Mark Fields announced that the Dearborn, Michigan automaker will offer fully autonomous vehicles for ride-sharing services in 2021.
The announcement came via traditional mainstream and online media as well as pushed through social media networks. In a LinkedIn post, Fields said, “It’s now clear that the next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile. In fact, we see autonomous vehicles as having as big an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did a hundred years ago.”
Further accentuating Ford’s commitment to driverless cars, Ford promised the mass-produced commercial vehicles for ride-sharing will have no steering wheel, no gas pedals and no brake pedals. A driver will not be required.
An article in Bloomberg says that like Alphabet’s Google, Ford will skim interim steps (driver-assisted technology) to move toward full autonomy. The automaker’s shift to deployment of driverless cars in ride-sharing and ride-hailing echoes announcements from General Motors. And Ford’s aggressive timetable for a 2021 launch is similar to BMW’s stated plans.
In a separate announcement, Ford said it had joined with Chinese search giant Baidu in a $150 million investment in Velodyne Lidar. Using lidar, which bounces light off objects to assess both location and shape provides self-driving cars with a 360-degree view of the environment, aided by cameras and traditional radar.
In July, Ford took part in a $6.6 million seed round for Civil Maps, a 3D mapping company. Ford said it also acquired SAIPS, an Israel-based machine learning and artificial intelligence startup, in an effort to boost the automaker’s artificial intelligence capabilities.
Ford, which some analysts and news commenters opined had been sitting on the sidelines while other automakers, startups and tech companies jumped on the autonomous vehicle bandwagon, clearly has other ideas.
As Ford’s Fields says: “The world is changing, and it’s changing quickly. We’re not sitting on the sidelines. Ford will be actively driving that change.”