No steering wheel, no pedals -- no problem. Ford to develop fully autonomous car

ford autonomous research vehicle self driving car aug 2016

Ford plans to triple its fleet of autonomous research vehicles in 2016, and triple it again in 2017, on its way to mass production of self-driving cars by 2021.

Credit: Melissa Riofrio

When most people think of cars, they think of steering wheels and pedals.

Not Ford.

The company announced that it is working on fully autonomous vehicles for 2021, and it will be stripping those otherwise essential elements out of the car. This is a departure from the strategy of other car companies that are working on semi-autonomous vehicles and more in line with what companies like Google are doing. So what is Ford's game plan?

In IT Blogwatch, we put the nonexistent pedal to the metal. 

What exactly is happening? Lucas Mearian gives us the background:

Ford...announced its plans to begin mass producing a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021...for ride hailing markets such as Uber...with no steering wheel, no gas or brake pedal. In other words, a driver will not be required.
Ford is planning to add two new buildings...adjacent to the current Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, doubling the size of the research team by the end of 2017. Currently, the facility has 130 researchers, engineers and scientists.

But what does fully autonomous really mean? Dave Lee levels with us:

Ford [is] focusing on “Level 4” autonomy...The levels represent the sophistication of self-driving technology. At Level four...the car is able to operate, unmonitored, in a particular use case...Level 5 would mean full autonomy in any driving condition.
The company said it was not interested in offering Level two or three driving. Level two means some level of automation that requires the driver to monitor the car at all times.

Ford is using some very strategic partnerships to help it reach its goals. Dee-Ann Durbin has the details:

Ford and Chinese search engine company Baidu will each invest $75 million in Velodyne, a company that makes laser sensors that help guide self-driving cars. Velodyne...will use the...investment to expand design and production and reduce the cost of its sensors.
Ford...has [also] vision and machine learning company SAIPS for its expertise in artificial intelligence and computer vision... [and] Civil Maps for its three-dimensional mapping capabilities.
Ford...also formed a partnership with...Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC, a machine vision company that has developed devices for restoring sight to patients with degenerative eye diseases.

But besides keeping up with the (self-driving) Joneses, what is Ford's motivation here? Brent Snavely fills in the blanks:

Ford...believes that...autonomous vehicles...have the potential to dramatically reduce accidents, congestion and pollution.
Ford’s mission to develop fully autonomous vehicles [is] line with Henry Ford’s vision of making cars that are affordable and accessible to middle-class people...therefore benefiting society by making travel easier.

So what will it take to get the public on board? Mr_Integrity has one very important threshold:

I'll believe it works and is safe when...any...motor exec puts a significant person in their an autonomous vehicle for a cross-country drive. Only then can you be assured the technology works.
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