|We keep asking the question and get no answer, what will happen to racing when driving is something humans no longer do?|
Ford today announced plans to build a fully autonomous vehicle within five years. The car will have no steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal, and it will be used for ride-sharing or ride hailing services. Ford made no mention of when the public will be able to buy such a vehicle.
"The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford's moving assembly line did 100 years ago," said Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO. Ford's entry will be a high-volume SAE level 4 autonomous vehicle. Ford's cars on the road today max out at level 2 autonomy.
There are six levels of autonomy. Level 0 is complete driver control. Level 1 means most functions are controlled the driver, but some, such as braking, can be done by the car. Level 2 means the car controls at least two functions and the driver doesn't have to have his hands on the steering wheel or his foot on the brake pedal. Level 3 still has a driver, but the car can perform all functions, while Level 4 eliminates the need for a driver. Level 5 leaves no room for a driver and all systems are controlled by the car. By this definition, Ford's vehicle will be level 5. However, Ford's vehicle will likely be driven only on 3D-mapped pre-programmed routes and will not be subject to all types of driving conditions. People along those routes will be able to summon the car.
The effort is part of Ford Smart Mobility, the company's plan to be a leader in autonomous vehicles, as well as in connectivity, mobility, the customer experience, and data and analytics.
To make its autonomous vehicle happen, Ford also announced that it is investing in or outright buying four companies. Ford is investing in Velodyne, the Silicon Valley-based leader in LiDAR sensors. Ford is acquiring SAIPS, an Israeli computer vision and machine learning company for its expertise with artificial intelligence and computer vision. Ford says this partnership will help its autonomous vehicle learn and adapt to the surroundings.