Ford's fleet of self-driving cars will be here by 2021

Ford’s fleet of self-driving cars will be here in just five years.

The company said Tuesday that it plans to roll out a “high-volume” fleet of driverless cars in a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service by 2021. These vehicles will be fully autonomous, meaning they will not have a steering wheel, gas, or brake pedals.

However, Ford’s autonomous cars won’t be driving just anywhere.

The vehicles will only operate in a geo-fenced area that has previously been mapped with Ford’s autonomous vehicles, Ken Washington, Ford’s VP of research and advanced engineering told Business Insider. Geography and weather conditions are also taken into account when selecting areas where these vehicles will be able to operate.

“We plan to initially provide this service in urban areas and then scale up to other areas,” Washington said. “Our focus, of course, first is North America. But our long-term strategy and ambitions is to provide this service all over the world.”

Ford hasn’t chosen a specific city, but it is currently talking to a number of cities as part of its smart mobility strategy, Washington said.

Washington wouldn’t’t say exactly what its autonomous fleet cars will look like, but the hinted that they could be built on the same platform as Ford’s Fusion hybrid, which is the current vehicle the company uses in its autonomous fleet.

“Right now we have quite a bit of experience working with our hybrid Fusion platform. But we are leaders in plug-in hybrid technology and number two in electrified vehicles platforms and so we have lots of choices as to what platform to provide this on,” he said. “We haven’t selected a final platform for the vehicle that we plan to introduce in 2021, but we certainly have plenty of experience with battery electric vehicle platforms as well as plug-in hybrid.”

To meet its aggressive timeline, Ford is investing in four tech startups as well as doubling its own team in Silicon Valley.

One key investment Ford has made is in Velodyne, a company that makes lidar sensors for self-driving cars. Ford along with China’s tech giant Baidu are collectively investing $150 million into the company.

LIDAR is a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to map out the world around it. The light reflected from the laser beaming on objects helps determine the distance between the car and its environment.

LIDAR is considered by some to be the best technology to use in self-driving cars because it is highly accurate and enables the car to be able to localise its positioning almost perfectly on an existing map. It’s also the same key technology Google uses for its self-driving cars.

In January, Ford said it was tripling the number of autonomous cars in its test fleet this year, bringing the total to 30 driverless cars. The company said Tuesday that it plans to triple the number of cars in its fleet again in 2017.

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