Ford joins rivals with self-driving car tech

Executives at Ford have announced that the car company is joining other major car manufacturers in stepping up efforts to roll out self-driving cars, Reuters reports.

The US car company will expand advanced safety technology, including automatic braking, across its global vehicle line-up over the next five years, they said. Such systems, the precursors of fully autonomous vehicles, enable hands-free operation of cars under certain conditions by automating such basic functions as steering, braking and throttle.

Although this is the technology of tomorrow, Ford are a bit late to the party, as General Motors, Volkswagen, Audi, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Tesla, have already announced plans to begin offering semi-automated driving systems over the next 18 months.

On Tuesday, Ford said it had created a global team to develop self-driving vehicles and have appointed Randy Visintainer as director of the project.

The move elevates a low-key research effort to a higher-profile advanced engineering project, and signals Chief Executive Mark Fields’ intent to accelerate Ford’s presence in the area.

Raj Nair, Ford’s global product development chief said, ‘During the next five years, we will move to migrate driver-assist technologies across our product line-up (and) continue to increase automated driving capability,’ Raj said the move is ‘another step closer to production’ of fully autonomous vehicles. He declined to say when such vehicles would reach the market, but other companies have targeted 2020.

Much of the engineering development work will take place at Ford’s recently opened research and innovation centre in Palo Alto in northern California’s Silicon Valley, where the company expects to have 125 employees by year-end.

More than a dozen global automakers and suppliers have teamed up with tech start-ups and established companies in the area to develop advanced safety and self-driving systems.

Automatic braking and pedestrian detection, which are available on Ford’s Mondeo sedan in Europe, will debut next year on one of its U.S. vehicles and in most Ford products globally by 2019.

A key supplier of pedestrian-detection technology is Mobileye NV, which is working with Ford, GM, Tesla and other automakers to bring such advanced safety systems to market.

Ford said its advanced engineering efforts extend well beyond self-driving vehicles. Executives on Tuesday announced breakthroughs in high-speed, three-dimensional printing of prototype parts, in partnership with Silicon Valley-based Carbon3D, as well as the extension of the MyFord Mobile app to wearables, including Apple Watch and Android Wear.

The latter app will enable owners of Ford hybrid and electric cars to remotely check such functions as driving range and battery charge.