At the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California the automaker announced it would have a fully autonomous car on the road with a ride sharing service in 2021. CEO Mark Fields said self-driving cars will be as important to Ford as the assembly line. "We're designing the first generation of autonomous vehicles specifically for ride sharing and ride hailing," Fields told the audience.
During the event Fields said, "today we're no longer just an auto company, we're also a mobility company." Fields stressed that the company's regular vehicles will continue to be available for folks who still want to drive. The company just sees " Smart Mobility" as an additional revenue stream. Basically, then, the F150 and Mustangs aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Ford chief technology officer Raj Nair talked about how automaker decided to stop worrying about incremental steps and go full bore with self-driving vehicles. "We abandoned the stepping stones of driver assist technologies and decided to take the full leap to fully autonomous," he said. Nair also said that Ford would triple its development fleet by the end of the year (to 30) and triple it again next year.
As for autonomous vehicles being ready for the general public, Nair said it will be at least a couple years after the ride-hailing service goes live before you can buy your very own self-driving car. That's mostly because of the costs.
The five-year plan to have a fully autonomous car on the road was hatched four years ago. "We've been at this for a long time and it gradually became apparent to us that the stepping stone approach was not going to work," Ken Washington, Ford's vice president of research and advanced engineering, told Engadget.
Like other automakers, Ford has been moving aggressively into the ride sharing and autonomous car market. Earlier this morning it announced that it would be doubling its presence in Silicon Valley from 130 to 260 researchers by the end of 2017. It also invested $75 million into Velodyne for its LIDAR system.
As for how people will be able to actually hail these self-driving cars, Fields said that everything is on the table, "We may do things on our own. We may partner with others." In five years, we'll find out.