Ford to debut autonomous car in 2021

A prototype Ford autonomous vehicle. Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.
A prototype Ford autonomous vehicle. Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.

US automaker Ford Motor Company announced yesterday that it plans to bring its first autonomous car to the market in 2021.

The announcement was made by Ford’s President and CEO Mark Fields at an event in Palo Alto, California.

“Ford will be mass producing vehicles with full autonomy within five years, and that means there will be no steering wheel, no gas pedals, and no brake pedals. The driver is not going to be required,” said CEO Fields.

Ford also outlined its belief that autonomous, driverless cars would precipitate a revolutionary change for the automotive industry.

“We see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line more than 100 years ago. We see the autonomous car changing the way the world moves,” Mark Fields explained.

Called ‘Ford Smart Mobility’, this plan to build an autonomous car is, according to the company, motivated by the environmental and driver safety benefits of the tech.

In order to help achieve this five year target for a mass-produced driverless car, Ford is making a number of significant technology investments.

The largest of these is into a company called Velodyne, a producer of LiDAR sensors, whereby both Ford and Chinese search giant Baidu will each invest $75m.

LiDAR systems are critical to allow autonomous vehicles to ‘see’ the road around them, and thus the company is a natural fit for this investment.

In addition to Velodyne, Ford will spend big on three other companies. SAIPS, an Israeli computer vision startup will be acquired by Ford, and Civil Maps, a US mapping company will also see significant investment.

Finally, Ford has entered into an exclusive licensing arrangement with another machine vision company called Nirenberg Neuroscience.

The company also is expanding its Silicon Valley operations, creating a dedicated campus in Palo Alto set to open in 2017.

While Ford is one of the largest players in the automotive industry, it will have a long way to go to catch up with other companies much as Tesla and BMW who have a significant developmental head start.