Technically, Ford has been selling driver-less cars since always, because it is illegal to sell people with cars. But this time the automaker will sell a car that cannot be driven: a fully autonomous car, with no human driver controls, much like Google’s autonomous car. The planned target markets are commercial applications and ride-sharing services.
Of the plan, Ford CEO Mark Fields was quoted as saying in The Detroit News:
“We view autonomous vehicles as having just as much opportunity and significance of changing society as the Ford moving assembly did over 100 years ago.”
Ford is the first American automaker to put any sort of hard date on their plans to introduce autonomous vehicles.
In order to actually produce a completely autonomous car, Ford went on a bit of an investment-spree: $75 million to LIDAR developer Velodyne, buying Israeli software house SAIPS, who work with computer vision and machine learning; getting an exclusive license to Nirenberg Neruoscience, also a machine learning and computer vision firm, and they’ve put money into the 3D mapping and machine spatial cognition company Civil Maps.
All of that adds up to a pretty solid knowledge and experience base for building an autonomous car. Also, they’ve beefed up their own Silicon Valley-based operation, looking to double their staff by 2017.
Targeting commercial operations for a completely driver-free car is a smart way to enter the market. By doing so, conventional human-driven vehicle owners can get used to dealing with autonomous cars on the road, and Ford can rack up experience and machine-learning datasets with arguably less risk and more control than using private car owners, as Tesla has started doing for their developing current near-autonomous and future autonomous systems.
These commercial applications will likely include taxi/Uber-like ride sharing services, though it’s not yet known if Ford will attempt to start their own company to provide the services, or just become a supplier of autonomous vehicles for these services.
Hypothetically, it’s also possible that Ford could look into the trucking/delivery markets, with autonomous delivery vehicles that may have a human employee riding along, or, possibly, even totally unmanned, perhaps similar to my hypothetical autonomous, unmanned Apple car/errand-running vehicle.