Ford to produce fully autonomous vehicle by 2021

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Author: | Updated: 17 Aug 2016 12:03

By investing in start ups and doubling its technology divisions, Ford has pledged to create a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021. The car will have an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) rating of level 4. In other words, it won’t need any driver input at all. In fact, it will do without a steering wheel and pedals.

Over 30 Fusion Hybrids will make up Ford's autonomous test fleet by the end of the year

When can we expect fully autonomous cars to hit UK roads?

Autonomous technology is part of Ford’s ‘smart mobility’ plan, and building a high-volume fully autonomous car is first on the agenda. Ford has confirmed it is investing in numerous start ups in order to speed up its autonomous vehicle plans, while its Silicon Valley-based boffins will also receive a huge amount of investment.

Expanding test fleet

Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO said: “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.

The Ford Fusion Hybrid takes the shape of the Mondeo Hybrid in the UK

By the end of the year, Ford will have tripled the number of vehicles in its autonomous test fleet, meaning there’ll be 30 self-driving Ford Fusion hybrids (similar to the Mondeo hybrid in the UK) on the roads of the US. Plans are in place to triple this number again in 2017 and, if all goes well, these self-driving vehicles could be used for commercial mobility services by 2021.

What is the SAE level?

An autonomy rating of a vehicle can be defined by its SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) level. 0 equates to no autonomy and full driver input, while level 1 and 2 could include some of the driver assist packages available on today’s production vehicles – Tesla’s Autopilot, for example.

A table published by the SAE shows how the autonomy of a car can be rated

Committing to level 4-rated vehicle, Ford are obviously aiming to make what will be a highly autonomous vehicle. The table above shows SAE ratings in full, with level 4 (highly autonomous) and level 5 (fully autonomous) technically needing no human input at all.

Commenting on Ford’s expertise, Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president said: “We have a strategic advantage because of our ability to combine the software and sensing technology with the sophisticated engineering necessary to manufacture high-quality vehicles. That is what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world.”

Silicon Valley research

Silicon Valley is not only home to several of the start ups Ford are collaborating with, but Ford’s Palo Alto base, where Ford is extending its dedicated autonomous vehicle campus. 150,000 square feet of lab space will be added to the current research centre, with plans to double the size of the workforce by the end of the year.

Read about how a self-driving Tesla saved its owner’s life by driving to hospital

Ford’s vice president of research Ken Washington said:  “Our presence in Silicon Valley has been integral to accelerating our learning and deliverables driving Ford Smart Mobility … Today, we are actively working with more than 40 start ups, and have developed a strong collaboration with many incubators, allowing us to accelerate development of technologies and services.”

Would you mind travelling in a car with no steering wheel, or is full automation a step too far? Let us know what you think!

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