Ford has just announced its plan for the future of transport, and it points to a usership-based, driverless future. The carmaker wants us to be riding in its driverless, shared cars by 2021, and it’s committed to make that vision a reality.
The whole thing hinges around Ford’s new vision of Smart Mobility. Simply put, Ford sees “Smart Mobility” as the best way to get to your destination, whether it’s by train, bike or rented car – and it thinks driverless tech will be a huge part of the latter. Although it admits there’ll still be a market for private cars that owners love and cherish, in the future Ford thinks autonomous rented cars will be the preferred way to get around.
According to Ford, the cars will be mass-produced, fully autonomous vehicles that can be used for anything from ride-sharing to ride-hailing. Five years isn’t a huge amount of time, and Ford has already made steps to make sure it hits its target. The company has already invested heavily in the likes of Velodyne, SAIPS, Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC and Civil Maps – and together they all form a tremendous technology platform for Ford’s new ambitions.
Velodyne is a huge LIDAR and sensor company – two components essential for driverless tech – while SAIPS and Nirenberg Neuroscience specialise in AI. Finally, Civil Maps is able to produce super-high-resolution maps, something essential for the first wave of truly driverless tech. The combination of these four companies could be perfect for getting a driverless system ready as soon as possible.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Ford is buying in all its expertise: at the same time the company has also announced that it will double the amount of staff at its Silicon Valley campus and more than double the amount at its Palo Alto campus.
“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. “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.”
Sometimes, being a pioneer isn’t a good thing
Ford’s slow and steady rollout of driverless tech is similar to that achieved by Nissan last week – and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, you could say that Ford looks like it’s acting very slowly compared to tech companies such as Tesla, but there’s another way of looking at things.
Tesla may have the most sophisticated system on the road right now, but as Tesla itself admits, it’s not quite perfect yet – and several incidents have confirmed that. That makes Tesla’s position out in front either very strong or very vulnerable. At the moment Tesla can be seen either as a disruptive pioneer in the driverless tech space, or as a tech company naive about the dangers of introducing a beta product to public roads. When you look at things like that, companies with long driverless roadmaps such as Ford seem a trustworthy pair of hands – not a company struggling to keep up.