UPDATE: Below is the response from Ford on this:
“Reports that Ford engineers were falling asleep while testing autonomous vehicles are inaccurate. We believe that high levels of automation without full autonomy capability could provide a false sense of security, and that this presents a challenge for the driver to regain full awareness and control of the vehicle if a situation arises where the technology cannot function. That is why we’re currently pursuing SAE Level 4 autonomous capability that will take the driver completely out of the driving process in defined areas.”
END OF UPDATE:
Ford wants to remove steering wheels from driverless cars because the company doesn't trust human drivers to pay attention to the road. The automaker's test drivers that are supposed to react to dangerous situations are too relaxed when they're being driven around and the firm doesn't believe they would be able to prevent any accidents should their vehicles put them in danger. Ford even tried to put two engineers in its driverless vehicles so that one can keep an eye on the other, but that also didn't help and the engineers dozed off on several occasions while never really maintaining their "situational awareness," Ford's head of Product Development Raj Nair told Bloomberg.
Due to that state of affairs, the automaker is looking to eliminate steering wheels from its self-driving vehicles as quickly as possible. The company is currently planning to accomplish that goal by 2021, Nair revealed. While most other car manufacturers believe human drivers can be trusted to take control of autonomous vehicles if necessary, Ford's experience with its own test drivers goes against that stance. If even trained engineers are dozing off while being driven around, it's unlikely the average consumer would do any better, the company believes. This sentiment is why Ford is trying to make its venture into semi-autonomous vehicles a short one as it suspects that the so-called "Level 3" vehicles which provide conditional automation could actually turn out to be more dangerous than vehicles that provide no automation at all.
Alphabet's Waymo, formerly known as the Google self-driving car project, reached similar conclusions, as revealed by its CEO John Krafcik who recently said that Level 3 vehicles may actually end up being a "myth." Standards organization SAE International currently differentiates between six levels of vehicles by automation. Level 0 offers no automation, Level 1 implies some driver assistance, and Level 5 is how the association calls fully autonomous vehicles. Seeing how some previous studies have shown that people get bored in a car when not driving and are prone to losing situational awareness in those situations, both Ford and Waymo fear that commercializing semi-autonomous vehicles may be a recipe for disaster. Their stance was recently supported by Volvo as the Swedish automaker announced it's planning to start releasing fully autonomous vehicles by 2020 for similar reasons.