Ford announced on Tuesday, June 24th that it is moving forward at full speed with the development of self-driving cars. The iconic automaker had fallen behind the curve to rivals in self-driving technology, and analysts had anticipated the firm would take some steps to play catch up soon.
The carmaker noted it had created a global team to develop self-driving vehicle technology, with long-time exec Randy Visintainer as director.
More on Ford’s plans for self-driving cars
Ford said in its statement that it plans to expand research on advanced safety technology, including automatic braking,for its vehicle lineup over the next five years. These systems are seen as the precursors to fully self-driving vehicles, allow for hands-free operation of cars under some conditions through computer control of steering, braking and acceleration.
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Analysts point out that Ford had fallen behind global rivals, including General Motors, Volkswagen/Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla Motors which have been developing semi-automated driving systems for several years.
Sources say the large majority of the engineering development work will happen at Ford’s new research and innovation center in Palo Alto,California, where the company will have at least 125 employees by the beginning of 2016.
Global automakers and suppliers have signed partnerships with a variety of tech startups and well-known firms to develop the latest safety and self-driving systems.
Features such as automatic braking and detection of pedestrians are already available on Ford’s Mondeo sedan in Europe, and will launch in another one of its U.S. models in 2016 and in most Ford products by 2019.
Statement from Ford’s global product development chief
“During the next five years, we will move to migrate driver-assist technologies across our product lineup (and) continue to increase automated driving capability,” Raj Nair, Ford’s global product development chief, explained in a presser in Palo Alto on Tuesday.
He also noted the new initiative is “another step closer to production” of self-driving cars. He would not say when these vehicles might be available, but other auto companies are aiming for 2020.