One of the latest trends among automakers is experimenting with the idea of self-driving vehicles. What once seemed to be an idea based in fantasy is quickly becoming a reality thanks to rapid technological developments in the area of autonomous driving. Now, Ford wants to take the next big step – to make an autonomous vehicle-based transportation service.
To help them make their vision a reality, Ford has partnered with a company that develops self-driving technology called Velodyne. Vehicles that are entirely autonomous and do not require any user interaction are classified as level 5; Ford hopes to have a series of level 4 automobiles, only one step down from fully autonomous vehicles, deployed by 2021. As far as the transportation service that will be used to coordinate picking up customers and getting them to their destinations, it is not yet known whether Ford will create their own service or partner with an existing service provider. Although a partnership between Ford and Uber did not pan out, and Uber ultimately ended up partnering with Toyota, that doesn't necessarily mean that a partnership with Uber is out of the question. Ford CEO Mark Fields warns that autonomous vehicle ownership will be cost-prohibitive to the average consumer before the technology matures and becomes less expensive, and feels that in the near future, self-driving vehicles will assume more of a minimal role, providing services to people. As the technology becomes more affordable, it will start to show up in more consumer products.
Ford does not appear to have any interest in developing partially autonomous vehicles, similar to the options available on the market now, and would rather go straight into the development of level 4 vehicles. While some may be hesitant to trust an unmanned vehicle to get them to their destination, Ford has confidence in their brand, stating that "these level 4 (out of 5) autonomous vehicles will be as safe as consumers expect all cars to be." Ford also hopes to add appeal by offering a competitive value. By removing the driver from the transaction, they will be removing the greatest expense incurred by traditional transportation services. This will help them lower prices, and make such services more affordable for those who use them. Self-driving technology is still a new concept that continues to develop over time, but it will be interesting to see what other unique benefits it can offer, not only to drivers but to passengers as well.