Another major player just joined the race to bring self-driving cars to the masses. The Chronicle reports that the CEO of Ford announced yesterday plans to put fully autonomous taxis on the roads within five years.
“It’s now clear that the next decade is going to be defined by the automation of the automobile,” explained CEO Mark Fields at Ford’s lab in Palo Alto. “In fact, we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did over a hundred years ago.”
Much like Lyft Co-Founder John Zimmer, who in partnership with GM aims to make self-driving cars more like "experience pods" than the traditional vehicles we think of today, Fields's plan involves ditching the steering wheel and fundamentally redesigning what it means to ride in a car. So unlike, say, Tesla's auto-pilot feature which still requires a driver to keep his or her hands on the wheel and pay attention while in the driver's seat, the futuristic Ford that Fields envisions will be 100 percent machine-controlled at all times.
"We abandoned the stepping-stone approach of driver-assist technologies and decided we were going to take the full leap," Ford's chief technical officer Raj Nair told the Chronicle.
Ford teamed up with Google last December in their quest to develop autonomous vehicles, however this announcement makes no mention of the Menlo Park-based tech giant. Instead, Nair explained that the team working on Ford's self-driving car is all internal. "There’s been this perception that automakers are just the hardware guys, and we plug in other people’s software,” he told the paper. “That’s not the way it works.”
Interestingly, in conversation with The Verge, Ford declined to rule out launching its own ride-hail network to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft. However, VP of Research and Advanced Engineering Ken Washington told the publication that they do definitely want to sell the vehicles. "We are viewing this just like the core business of selling cars," explained Washington. "We stand behind our product. We envision a future ride service having vehicles in it that we engineer and service, and provide a service to our customers."
So, if all goes well, before too long you'll be able to hail a self-driving taxi on your way to another Bay Area Super Bowl.