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Ford Proposes To Deliver Driverless Taxi By 2021

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On: Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 9:22PM | By: Carl Malek


Ford Proposes To Deliver Driverless Taxi By 2021

As part of its ongoing transformation from being an automobile company into a mobility provid— firm, Ford has revealed that it plans to deliver a high-volume fully autonomous vehicle by 2021 in what could be a broader example of its intentions to be a leader in the mobility business.

While it is a far cry from being a formal vehicle for consumers, Ford says that the new vehicle would instead be designed and purpose-built to provide ride hailing services, which would virtually mirror the business model set in place by Uber, but without human drivers. This approach would, in theory, allow Ford to distance itself from some of the legal problems that companies like Uber have faced when some of their drivers take the firms to court over pay and labor rights. Interestingly, Ford's vision also runs parallel with Google's, and it sees no need to equip the car with either a steering wheel or formal brake and gas pedals for taxi service.

This is mainly due to Ford claiming that human-operated driving controls would not be necessary since the vehicle was designed to meet SAE Level 4 standards, which define it as a "high autonomation" vehicle, but falls just short of being a "full automation" vehicle, the Level 5 designation. According to the SAE, a Level 4 vehicle is formally defined as an offering that is capable of full autonomy in "some" driving situations. This would mean that the vehicles could be deployed in specific areas of a city that are well mapped without the need for a human driver. In addition, the system must also be able to safely operate the vehicle in the event that the human driver "does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene," Since Ford's vehicles would not have any human drivers whatsoever, it is safe to assume that the vehicle would be programmed to pull off into a safe area if its predefined safety limits are exceeded.

This can be confusing to some folks when the SAE standards are compared to those fielded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which defines only four levels of autonomous vehicles, and reserves level 4 for fully autonomous vehicles that would never need any human intervention. Level 3 in the NHTSA's policy is very similar to the Level 4 designation given by the SAE but omits the key provision that the vehicle must provide a certain "comfortable transition time" if the human driver takes over for the computer.

This recent report follows up on Ford's $75 million investment in Silicon Valley-based Velodyne which was done in a bid to lower the costs of lidar systems to much more sustainable cost for use in high-volume vehicles. Ford also acquired SAIPS which is a Israeli company that specializes in machine learning and computer vision.

Furthermore, an exclusive agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC—an artificial intelligence company developing machine vision techology—will help further refine the self-driving software, while a separate investment in the firm Civil Maps will allow Ford to create better 3D high resolution maps of potential autonomous vehicle environments.

Ford is also expanding its presence in Silicone Valley with a dedicated campus, and doubling of the employees in Palo Alto, California. The facility is expected to open by the middle of 2017.

Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer, stated, “Ford has been developing and testing autonomous vehicles for more than 10 years. 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.”

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