Ford moves to introduce self-driving vehicles by 2021

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 22 Jul 2019
Ford is currently testing self-driving passenger cars in Miami.
Ford is currently testing self-driving passenger cars in Miami.

Ford Motor Company is on a push to introduce high volume fully autonomous vehicles by 2021.

After establishing a $45 million advanced manufacturing centre in Michigan, US last year, Ford is betting on futuristic technologies to help speed manufacturing innovation, which will see the roll-out of its first autonomous vehicle in the next two years.Experts predict self-driving cars will be a reality on roads across the globe in the next decade, with motoring and tech companies collaborating to test different services and business models, to gain a deeper understanding of how best to deploy the vehicles.

Kuda Takura, brand and marketing manager of Ford Credit Middle East & Africa,  told ITWeb, that the automaker is currently working at five different phases of connected vehicles, with the its first self-driving vehicle range expected to be initially rolled out in “in first world markets” – in certain parts of Europe and in the US.

“Almost every large vehicle manufacturing company is moving towards the connected vehicles ‘marathon’ – working on how best to integrate connected vehicles into society and how to work around things like regulatory requirements and [how to] employ cyber security practices,” Takura said. “I call it a marathon because there are so many factors that are outside the vehicle manufacturing industry’s control, which require collaborations and acquisitions with companies from other industries.”

Ford’s advanced manufacturing centre co-locates approximately100 technology experts and specialised equipment in one open space. The centre will ramp up prototyping and assembling of car parts, using technologies such as 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, robotics and more, before bringing tested innovations to Ford auto plants across the globe.

The race to get self-driving cars on public roads is speeding up, with vehicle manufacturers and governments spending billions of dollars on preparing for the market.

Earlier this year, the UK government announced driverless cars could be in full use on Britain's roads by 2021, as it moves forward on advanced trials for self-driving vehicles.

In December 2018, Google subsidiary Waymo won the first approval to test cars with the launch of its self-driving commercial robo-taxi service, in Phoenix, Arizona.

A number of other companies are closing in, with Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler collaborating with arch-rival BMW to develop self-driving car technology.

Five levels of automation

Ford vehicles are manufactured with five different levels of automation:

The first level is a basic vehicle with no connected features; phase two is a vehicle with certain driver assistance features; phase three is the conditional automation stage, where the vehicle allows the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel, with the vehicle driving, braking and steering itself for a limited period.

Kuda Takura, Ford Credit brand and marketing manager.
Kuda Takura, Ford Credit brand and marketing manager.

“Level four is high automation where the vehicle takes care of 70% of the scenarios and drives the passengers to their place of destination,” explains Takura.

“Level five is the phase where the driver entirely becomes a passenger. So drivers can own this vehicle even if they don’t know how to drive it. They simply get into it; input their destination on the navigator, and the vehicle does everything,” adds  Takura.

Talking and listening cars

While Ford will not be introducing its autonomous vehicles to the South African market anytime soon, the multinational automaker says it will be ramping up on developing more talking and listening vehicles in SA.

In SA, Ford started rolling out different levels of automation technologies in 2013 with the launch of the Kuga, and these technologies have cascaded into other models including the Everest, Ranger and Focus, according to Kuda.

He explains that talking and listening vehicles have built-in autonomous driver assistance features. “These are technologies such as sensors and stereo cameras, which scan the environment and process information used in decision-making.

“This is now evolving to a stage where vehicles begin to speak to their environment via external Internet of things devices. So we will see devices interlinking and sharing data with each other, within and also outside the vehicle,” concludes Kuda.