Ford Motor Company plans to release a driverless car without a steering wheel or pedals in the next five years‚ the latest salvo in a technological arms race engulfing the global motor industry.
The car-maker said this week it would initially target ridesharing fleets and package-delivery services with the unnamed model‚ underscoring the still-incremental approach many car companies are taking before offering consumers vehicles that do not require people behind the wheel.
Ford expected the first of its driverless cars to be used by commercial fleet operators looking to cut the costs of employing drivers‚ company executives said. The vehicles would be confined largely to cities with premapped zones designed for autonomous vehicles.
Separately‚ Ford said it had acquired an Israeli machine learning firm‚ SAIPS‚ which has 12 employees‚ and invested $75-million (R1.1-billion) in laser sensor maker Velodyne.
Both are to boost Ford’s autonomous- vehicle know-how‚ with the latter working on sensors to help autonomous cars recognise objects and navigate traffic. Chinese web-service provider Baidu invested in Velodyne alongside Ford.
Ford also plans to double the staff at its Silicon Valley office to 260 by the end of next year‚ hiring researchers and business development staff in an effort to expand into new transportation services.
The company’s forays mark the latest attempt to keep up as traditional car companies and Silicon Valley upstarts enter the race to deliver automated- driving technologies Baidu invested in Velodyne alongside Ford.
But those endeavours have come under increased scrutiny after a fatal crash of a Tesla Motors car driving itself in May. Questions also remain about regulations and legal liabilities arising from the advancements.
General Motors punched the accelerator earlier this year‚ taking a $500-million (R6.7-billion) stake in ride-hailing startup Lyft‚ with which it plans to soon start testing a fleet of driverless Chevrolet Bolt taxis.
It this year acquired the Silicon Valley autonomous driving start-up Cruise Automation to aid development efforts. Other giants including Toyota‚ Nissan and Volkswagen have committed to putting selfdriving cars on the road.
Nissan pledged it would roll out 10 new models within the next five years with a range of self-driving features aimed at individual buyers‚ including a fully autonomous car.
Tesla ‚ which released its driver- assist Autopilot system last year‚ said it would be the first to put a driverless car on the road‚ although it had not set a specific date.
Google parent Alphabet recently said it was pairing with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to jointly test self-driving technology in minivans. F o rd ’s driverless car would not be made available for sales to individual customers until later in the decade‚ chief executive Mark Fields said. “We have done a lot of work to reduce the cost on the technical components‚ but it is still going to be a relatively expensive vehicle.”
But regulators are still trying to sort out what rules need to be in place before driverless cars can hit roads in large numbers.