If you didn’t know Ford was serious about developing autonomous cars before, you will now. Tuesday, the automaker made some big announcements about plans to launch a fully autonomous car by 2021.
To make it happen, not only is it accelerating its self-driving development by pouring cash into some autonomous technology startups, it’s also planning to double its Silicon Valley operations by the end of 2017.
Let’s start with the vehicle. Ford says it will have a high-volume fully autonomous car ready to hit the the road by 2021. It’s a car designed for commercial use, for things such as ride-sharing and ride-hailing services. It will be a Society of Automotive Engineers-rated level 4-capable vehicle which means it won’t have a steering wheel. It also won’t have gas and brake pedals.
To get this done in five years, Ford is investing a bunch more money into developing the technology to make it happen. That means investing in four startups that work on advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors. One goal is to develop and quickly mass-produce a more affordable LiDAR sensor for high-resolution mapping. Another goal is to develop artificial intelligence that helps vehicles learn and adapt to environments. Money will also be spent on a machine vision platform that helps cars recognize objects and perform navigation.
Along with investing in more startups, Ford also plans to expand its Silicon Valley operations. The Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto opened in 2015. Ford says it will double the size of its team there by the end of 2017. It’s currently home to more than 130 researchers, engineers and scientists.
Meanwhile, Ford is also tripling its autonomous testing fleet this year. It plans to have about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan. Next year, Ford plans to triple that number again.