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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

Autonomous goals endure

Though headlines have quelled some, the auto industry is persistently pursuing the reality of self-driving vehicles.  And, according to Ford Motor Company, autonomous arrival is imminent.

When the self-driving concept was widely proposed a few years ago, predictions, startups and pro/con discussions ran rampant.  Lately, now that the “dust has settled” from the original fervor, there is still plenty happening in the autonomous auto world.

Ford executives are targeting 2021 as the year in which Ford will have fully automated cars, trucks, SUV’s in commercial operation in the US.   According to Ford’s website, plans to make the company’s goals a reality is being made possible by its partnership and investment in four different technological companies as well as doubling its presence in Silicon Valley in California.  The company is expanding its presence there in Palo Alto by creating a dedicated campus to ensure that all of their proposed innovations will eventually come to life.

Besides marketing these vehicles to current car owners, Ford plans to establish an autonomous fleet operated as service vehicles by other companies providing transportation to employees as well as using them as delivery vehicles.

Ford has added two new buildings to their Silicon Valley campus at the Ford Research and Innovation Center initially built in 2015, which increased 150,000 square feet of work and lab space and doubled the Palo staff of 130.   Plans are to continue to research automated vehicles operating in hazardous conditions like driving in snow and complete darkness. Such tests have already been taking place in Mcity, which is the University of Michigan’s simulated urban environment.

Smart Mobility is the name Ford has coined to label its efforts to build completely autonomous vehicles by 2021.  They desire to be the leader in the US in autonomy, mobility, connectivity, analytics and customer experience.  That will be a momentous achievement, since millions of other self-driving dollars are also being spent by the likes of General Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Tesla and others.

Ford’s end goal of Smart Mobility is that eventually each autonomous vehicle will operate without a steering, gas or brake pedal as part of a ride-hailing (taxi cabs or UBER) or ride-sharing experience.  When the Ford vehicles reach this level of autonomy in self-driving they will be classified as a SAE Level 4 capable-vehicles that can complete all areas of driving without a human driver to intervene.

Continually improving AI (Artificial Intelligence) is a key factor for safe operation of autonomous vehicles on our roadways.  Argo AI, a Pittsburg start-up, is developing cars for Ford and is testing their automated technology in five cities: Austin, TX; Miami, FL; Palo Alto, CA; Dearborn, MI; and Washington, D.C.

As a side note, Ford downplays the idea that the advent of autonomous cars and trucks will slow overall vehicle sales as a result of less purchasing by the general public.  One Ford executive has predicted that the self-driving auto will last fewer years because they will be driven so much.  Now our registered vehicle fleet in America is roughly eleven years.  Ford’s Operations Chief of Autonomous Vehicles, John Rich, implied that autonomous vehicles will be used up, or “exhausted” and crushed every four years in continuous use.

How they will work, who will use them and how well-accepted autonomous vehicles will become remains to be seen.  What seems certain, however, is that we will see them — and soon!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.