Ford wants driverless cars by 2021, invests a lot

Ford recently announced it wants a fleet of its own driverless cars on the streets by 2021, to serve as a ride-sharing service.

In order to do that, it has had to make a couple of big investments, which is why it teamed up with four start-ups, doubled its Silicon Valley team, and more than doubled the staff in its Palo Alto campus.

The SAE level 4-capable autonomous vehicles, planned to be in commercial operation by 2021, are part of Ford Smart Mobility, the company’s plan to becoming a leader in the autonomous vehicle industry.

“Ford has been developing and testing autonomous vehicles for more than 10 years,” said Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer.

“We have a strategic advantage because of our ability to combine the software and sensing technology with the sophisticated engineering necessary to manufacture high-quality vehicles. That is what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world.”

Ford has made an investment in Velodyne (light detection and LIDAR sensors), acquired SAIPS (computer vision and machine learning), signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC (machine vision company), and invested in California-based Civil Maps (high-resolution 3D mapping).

The Palo Alto campus has also gotten two new buildings and 150,000 square feet of work and lab space, right next to what the company already has. By the end of 2017, Ford plans on doubling the size of the Palo Alto team.

“Our presence in Silicon Valley has been integral to accelerating our learning and deliverables driving Ford Smart Mobility,” said Ken Washington, Ford vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering. “Our goal was to become a member of the community. Today, we are actively working with more than 40 start-ups, and have developed a strong collaboration with many incubators, allowing us to accelerate development of technologies and services.”