Ford is getting into the self-driving sector, and it means business. The automobile giant revealed plans on Tuesday to get a fully autonomous car on roads by 2021. The cars would hit the roads as part of a ride-sharing service, and the company has made big investments to get it there.
Ford has previously said that it wants to enter the self-driving market, but this new announcement outlines how Ford will reach this goal in such a short space of time. Ford will double its Silicon Valley team by the end of 2017, build a 150,000 square foot Palo Alto campus and invest in four startups focused on artificial intelligence, light detection and ranging (LIDAR), mapping, and machine learning.
“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,” said Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO, in a statement. “We’re dedicated to putting on the road an autonomous vehicle that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people – not just those who can afford luxury vehicles.”
Ford has been slowly ramping up its self-driving efforts. Back in March, the company had 10 autonomous vehicles on the roads of Arizona, with plans to increase this to 30 by the end of the year. In July, the company joined a group of investors that put $6.6 million into Civil Maps, a LIDAR company that can construct shareable 3D maps of a road’s area.
Ford’s Tuesday announcement sees it investing in Civil Maps to develop this technology further. It has also struck an exclusivity agreement with machine vision company Nirenberg Neuroscience, acquired machine learning startup SAIPS, and invested in Velodyne, which competes with Tesla’s former partner Mobileye to create an affordable LIDAR system.
“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,” said Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer, in the company’s statement.