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Ford’s Self-Driving Cars in Austin: Bad News for Tesla?


Sep. 26 2019, Updated 2:36 p.m. ET

Ford (F) is set to launch its self-driving car in Austin, Texas, by 2021. The company plans to test and commercially deploy its autonomous vehicles in the Texas capital. The auto giant also plans to launch its vehicles in Miami-Dade County and Washington, DC. Plus, Ford expects to start manual testing of its Fusion Hybrid sedans on the city roads of Austin.

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Why self-driving cars in Austin?

Ford believes that Austin is the ideal location for launching its self-driving vehicles, as the fast-growing metro area has diverse topography. About 75% of the city’s commuters travel alone in their cars. CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) expects the vehicles in the city to double by 2040. However, the area’s highway capacity could increase by only 15%.

With these divergent figures, it’s no surprise that Austin is looking at solutions to resolve its future travel problems. Notably, Austin was the first city to allow autonomous vehicle testing on public roads.

Ford to address the city’s issue

Ford aims to tackle Austin’s issue by launching its self-driving vehicles. The company noted in a Medium post, “As Austin works towards expanding transportation options for residents, our ultimate goal is to build self-driving services in a way that complements a rich ecosystem of options.”

Ford plans to study the market well before starting the launch, and the company will start mapping roads with its test vehicles fitted with Argo AI’s technology. The company will determine which areas have more demand, the available options, and how it could contribute to the city’s transportation needs.

In its Medium post, Ford added, “With a large university campus at its core and a vibrant, growing downtown — not to mention a dense population that’s open to ride-hailing — there is an opportunity for self-driving vehicles to perform a wide number of services.”

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Ford’s self-driving car plans

Notably, Ford plans to lead the self-driving car market by 2021 and has been investing heavily in the segment. The auto giant has spent about $1 billion in Argo AI, which provides autonomous vehicle technology.

Ford foresees a massive demand for self-driving cars. The company predicts that demand and usage could be so high that self-driving vehicles might last only four years. Recently, Ford discovered a solution to the problem of bugs hitting the sensors.

Last year, Ford demonstrated its progress on self-driving cars. In November 2018, The Verge reported that Ford showcased its self-driving car abilities in one of the most complex environments—Miami, Florida.

The report noted, “Ford’s self-driving vehicles deftly handled a variety of challenging scenarios that have been known to trip up even the most skilled AVs, from unprotected left-hand turns, to construction zones, to narrow, two-way roads without lane markings.

“The car rode confidently alongside other drivers, braked for pedestrians, and inched its way assertively into intersections. The only time the vehicle seemed confused was when a passing flatbed truck kicked up an enormous cloud of dust, forcing the safety driver to momentarily take control

Ford uses LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors in its self-driving technology. However, rival Tesla (TSLA) is not an advocate of LiDAR technology. Tesla believes that cameras and artificial intelligence can efficiently maneuver self-driving vehicles.

Tesla’s strides in the self-driving car segment

Ford’s announcement of launching self-driving cars in Austin confirms the progress on its launch target of 2021. The company expects to provide stiff competition for Tesla in this space.

Tesla plans to launch its fleet of self-driving taxis by 2020, subject to regulatory clearances. The company plans to launch next-generation self-driving vehicles with a battery that could last for about 1 million miles. Plus, the company expects the cost of operating these vehicles to be minimal.

Tesla plans to launch the Robotaxi Tesla Network, allowing owners of the self-driving cars to earn income by placing their cars on the network. CEO Elon Musk said, “You’ll be able to add or subtract your car to the fleet from your phone.”

Musk added, “You could have your car operate 1/3 of the week or longer…The fundamental utility of your vehicle will increase by a factor of 5.”

Plus, Tesla is optimistic about the regulatory roadblocks facing the autonomous vehicle industry. Musk said, “If you have a massive amount of data saying that autonomy is safe…they’ll listen to it. They may take a long time to digest…but they’ll come to the right conclusion.”

Peers in the space

Among Ford’s peers, Alphabet’s Waymo (GOOGL) (GOOG), General Motors’ (GM) GM Cruise, and Apple (AAPL) are preparing for the launch of their self-driving cars.

Plus, Waymo is already testing its vehicles in Phoenix and Silicon Valley. The cars transport employees in Silicon Valley, and in Phoenix the cars transport paying and nonpaying passengers.

In the last couple of months, Waymo’s self-driving car fleets completed over 10,000 rides, of which 70% received positive feedback ratings. Plus, Waymo is collaborating with Land Rover Jaguar to design and manufacture an autonomous fleet of Jaguar I‑PACE cars.

Further, Apple recently tested its sensors in its self-driving cars. The company is already working on autonomous vehicle technology with its open-secret Project Titan. Plus, Apple acquired Drive.ai, the company that runs an autonomous fleet of ride-sharing vehicles.

GM Cruise had plans to launch its self-driving cars in 2019. However, the company delayed the launch, as the vehicles required more testing.

Tech companies are also competing in the self-driving car industry. To learn more, please read Hyundai-Aptiv Collab Heats Up Self-Driving Market.


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