Fleets Of Ford Autonomous Cars In 5 Years

Ford has seat-belted itself into the autonomous car trend in a big way. This past week Ford announced that it would be mass-producing self-driving cars within five years. And, for those keeping track, Ford means full Level 4 autonomy, meaning no driver needed at all.

This is not a private self-driving car for you to purchase. Ford will be creating a fleet of self-driving cars.

(Current prototype of the self-driving Ford Fusion)

"The world is changing, and it's changing very quickly," Ford CEO Mark Fields said... "Starting in 2021, if you want to get around the city without the hassle of driving or parking, Ford's new fully autonomous vehicle will be there for you," Fields said.

Although Fields cited the safety implications of autonomous cars—90 percent of traffic crashes are attributable to human error, after all—he was also enthusiastic about the possibility of making transportation more accessible to the elderly, disabled, and people too young (or too disinterested) to drive themselves.

To make that 2021 deadline, Ford is investing in lidar sensor-maker Velodyne and 3D mapping company Civil Maps. Additionally, it has acquired the machine vision company SAIPS and has entered into a licensing agreement with a second, Nirenberg Neuroscience.

And forget about more incremental steps in driver assist technologies. "Today we're looking at this differently," Nair said. "We have to take a completely different path." That means no level 3 autonomous Ford. Nair said that Ford's researchers still haven't found a satisfactory solution to the problem of returning control to a human driver in a safe manner (a level 4 car by contrast has no steering wheel and requires no human control beyond inputting the destination).

Science fiction writers have pioneered thinking about robotic taxi systems. For example, consider Larry Niven's bubble cars from World out of Time (1976) or the tin cabbie from James Blish's 1957 novel Cities in Flight. And don't forget the autocab from Robert Heinlein's 1951 novel Between Planets.

A more recent take on the robot taxi idea can be found in Alan Dean Foster's 2006 novel Sagramanda; see the automated taxi:

...he urgently addressed the vehicle's AI."Can't we go any faster? I'm already running late."

Since the taxi utilized sophisticated electronic sensors to perceive its surroundings, the traditional forward windshield existed only to allow fares to see where they were going. The vehicle was as aware of this as its passenger.

"As you can see, sir, this is a very busy street, and I am forbidden by law and by coding from forcing a path..."

All were equipped with the same city-regulated programming.

Via Ars Technica.

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