In the rapidly developing self-driving car industry, both tech and automobile companies are collaborating and competing to manufacture an accessible and affordable autonomous vehicle, and to make it readily available to consumers.
On Monday, Ford laid down a marker, saying its driverless cars will be for sale by 2025.
“We’re dedicated to putting autonomous vehicles on the road for millions of people, not just those who can afford luxury cars,” said Mark Fields, chief executive officer for Ford, on Monday at their headquarters, reported the International Business Times.
The comment about luxury cars may have been a reference to potential industry leader in self-driving vehicles, Tesla Motors, whose Model S starts with a price tag over $60,000, comes equipped with a functional autopilot that will steer within a lane, change lanes, and park on command. According to the Tesla website, their most recent software update includes a “Summon” feature that, “lets you ‘call’ your car from your phone so it can come greet you at the front door in the morning.”
While the Tesla features are innovating, Ford’s sights set on having standard features for all. “We may not be first, but when we do come out with it, we want to make sure that it’s accessible to millions,” Mr. Fields continued in his Monday address. His company’s focus is on safety and accessibility.
Believing that even the semiautonomous driving technology isn’t yet capable of providing the level of safety to which Ford aspires, they have chosen to move slower in their pursuit of a self-driving car.
“We’ve not been able to do that with cameras and radar,” said Raj Nair, the development chief of Ford’s autonomous vehicle program in reference to the systems utilized by Tesla’s Autopilot, quoted by The New York Times. “Not to the safety level we would be comfortable for introducing that into production.”
Again, that's another only slightly veiled criticism of Tesla's autonomous system.
Instead, Ford (and Google) has chosen to utilize lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), a more expensive type of remote sensing system that uses laser beams to measure the distance and composition of objects, as well as cameras and computer chips, in their careful pursuit of safe self-driving technology.
And so in the next five years Ford plans to slowly release autonomous vehicles into a controlled urban environment from which they can refine their systems.
Ultimately, however, Ford aims to compete with the other manufacturers in creating self-driving vehicles for ride-hailing programs, similar to those already outlined by both tech giants Tesla and Google, including Uber, which is working with Volvo to start testing autonomous taxis in Pittsburgh in the coming days.
According to Mr. Fields, Ford plans to have a fleet of self-driving vehicles on the roads for ride-hail operations by 2021, with the intention of then having consumer-oriented, affordable autonomous vehicles ready for purchase by 2025.
That time frame will put them just behind BMW, which announced earlier this summer that it plans to be mass-producing its own self-driving car by 2021. Meanwhile Audi and Nissan have both announced prototypes for autonomous vehicles but have yet to disclose a target launch date.