There have been whispers about Ford Motors’ plan to create a fully autonomous vehicle for years, but at this week’s Further With Ford annual trend conference, CEO Mark Fields unveiled the company’s plans for the future of transportation - and some information on how these cars will operate. Most notable is the fact that, unlike existing vehicles which contain an AI but also allow a human to take control in an emergency, Ford’s planned vehicles will have no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brakes.
Right now, the existing prototypes are, admittedly, a little quirky: the company has built a set of bulky sensors and mounted them on the roof of a series of modified Ford Fusion Hybrid vehicles while their software is under development. But by 2021, the company plans to have fleets of the new vehicles on the road as part of an on-demand mobility service that would compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft.
The autonomous vehicles won’t be available for personal purchase to begin with – Ford claims that production will simply be too expensive for them to be affordable for the average consumer. However, given that an autonomous ridesharing service would be able to operate significantly more cheaply than one requiring human drivers, for many people hailing rides as needed might end up being more affordable than owning a car at all.
Fields was quick to emphasize, however, that Ford is by no means planning to phase out the creation of conventional cars, nor is it attempting to transition away from producing personal vehicles. Instead, the company plans to expand into both markets simultaneously.
To reach this ambitious 2021 goal, Ford is tripling the number of cars in its self-driving test fleet, with 30 of the Fusion Hybrids taking to the roads in California, Arizona, and Michigan by the end of 2016. Then, in 2017, that number will triple again.
Ford has also expanded its research into advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors, acquiring and investing in a number of companies in Silicon Valley and beyond. The company is also expanding its Palo Alto campus in 2017 in order to better collaborate with its tech partners.
Images via Ford Motors and Julie M. Rodriguez