Ford promises level 4 driverless cars by 2021 out of five level automation scale

Ford Motor Co. said Tuesday it plans to deploy a fully autonomous and driverless ride-hailing car by 2021. Ford today announces its intent to have a high-volume, fully autonomous SAE level 4-capable vehicle in commercial operation in 2021 in a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service.

CEO Mark Fields set the target at Ford’s Research and Innovation facility here, which will double its staff to 300 and grow its footprint by 150,000 square feet by year’s end to respond to the challenge.

“This is one example of how we’re thinking about expanding our business into mobility more broadly,” Fields told USA TODAY. “Taking the driver out of the equation improves the economics for us as well as consumers.”

Currently, Ford is testing around a dozen self-driving Ford Fusion Hybrids on California, Michigan and Arizona roads. Its goal is to introduce cars with no steering wheels or pedals.

Google leads the way in this arena with a seven-year self-driving program whose vehicles have logged more than 1.5 million miles in four states.

Ford plans to have 30 Fusions testing its autonomous car tech by the end of this year, and nearly 100 in 2017.

“We’re aiming for Level 4 automation with this vehicle,” said Ford CTO Raj Nair, referring to the Society of Automotive Engineers standard, where Level 1 is a human-guided vehicle and 5 requires no human input regardless of the environment.

Nair said Level 4 offers full autonomy “but in a geo-fenced area that is very heavily 3D mapped.” In other words, a typical city center.

Ford will continue to invest in driver-assist features that will be added to traditional vehicles, Nair said. But in conducting research on car technology that is semi-autonomous, doing most of the driving while relying on the human in certain situations, Ford discovered certain risks.

Ford announced that it was co-leading a $150 million investment with Chinese search giant Baidu in Velodyne Lidar, which makes a critical laser radar component for self-driving vehicles. Last month, Ford participated in a $6.6 million seed round for 3D mapping company, Civil Maps.

Ford and Chinese search giant Baidu announced they will be investing $150M in Velodyne, which makes laser radar devices that are integral to the development of self-driving cars. (Photo: Velodyne)

Ford announcing four key investments and collaborations that are expanding its strong research in advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors:

  • Velodyne: Ford has invested in Velodyne, the Silicon Valley-based leader in light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors. The aim is to quickly mass-produce a more affordable automotive LiDAR sensor. Ford has a longstanding relationship with Velodyne, and was among the first to use LiDAR for both high-resolution mapping and autonomous driving beginning more than 10 years ago
  • SAIPS: Ford has acquired the Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company to further strengthen its expertise in artificial intelligence and enhance computer vision. SAIPS has developed algorithmic solutions in image and video processing, deep learning, signal processing and classification. This expertise will help Ford autonomous vehicles learn and adapt to the surroundings of their environment
  • Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC: Ford has an exclusive licensing agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience, a machine vision company founded by neuroscientist Dr. Sheila Nirenberg, who cracked the neural code the eye uses to transmit visual information to the brain. This has led to a powerful machine vision platform for performing navigation, object recognition, facial recognition and other functions, with many potential applications. For example, it is already being applied by Dr. Nirenberg to develop a device for restoring sight to patients with degenerative diseases of the retina. Ford’s partnership with Nirenberg Neuroscience will help bring humanlike intelligence to the machine learning modules of its autonomous vehicle virtual driver system
  • Civil Maps: Ford has invested in Berkeley, California-based Civil Maps to further develop high-resolution 3D mapping capabilities. Civil Maps has pioneered an innovative 3D mapping technique that is scalable and more efficient than existing processes. This provides Ford another way to develop high-resolution 3D maps of autonomous vehicle environments

SOURCES- Ford, Youtube, NHTSA,