The Future of Self-Driving Cars is Almost Here

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On Tuesday, August 16, the Ford Motor company announced plans to manufacture and sell driverless cars, and plan to do so in large quantities. The company’s plan, explained by chief executive Mark Fields, is to have driverless cars on the road and used by a large number of people by 2021. Ford Motor is one of several companies that are working on automated car travel, but Ford is taking it one step further; they’re hoping to make cars that will be completely autonomous. That means no steering wheel, no brakes, and no gas pedal.

Historically, this innovation isn’t completely out of left field. Henry Ford himself was a pioneer of automotive manufacturing. His Model T set the trend for mass production and made the automobile both affordable and accessible to the public. The leap from affordable to automated isn’t very far; it’s a blend of Ford’s history of innovation and business sense.

Ford isn’t the only company looking at the future of driverless cars. Recently Tesla has staked its claim in the self-driving industry. Tesla, run by CEO Elon Musk, is also developing self- automated vehicles. Musk’s goal is to develop a self-driving car that is ten times safer than the average driver. Musk says that the software behind self-driving cars will compose the brunt of the work.

Self-driving cars have faced controversy in the news after a fatal accident involving an automated Tesla car occurred on May 7, 2016. A Tesla car engaged in autopilot mode was traveling at 74 mph when it crashed into the side of a truck, killing the passenger. Musk stated that the car had trouble in differentiating between the truck and the sky behind it, warning that automated driving is still in its beta phase, and drivers should still use caution when behind the wheel.

On the other hand, self-driving cars can save lives. In Missouri, a man who was suddenly hit with a pulmonary embolism (a lung artery was blocked) used a tesla self-automated car to take him to the hospital.

The first step for Ford is to market these vehicles to commercial services. For companies looking to spend less money paying drivers, Ford will offer an alternative self-driving service, mostly limited to cities and areas that allow autonomous vehicles to be on the street.

The Ford Motor company seems to be banking on the technology advancing enough for self-driving automobiles to be viable in the near future. The company hasn’t been slouching in research and development either, doubling the size of its research campus to develop new tech.

Ford’s brand of autopilot is a system that is made to learn. Without any manual override, the technology behind the new vehicles needs to be better than a human. To that end, the software in these cars learns from processing videos and images in order to adapt to differing environments. Combined with Civil Maps, a new technology that maps in three dimensions, the self-driving cars of the future should be able to adapt and overcome the types of environments they will inevitably roam through.