In what will be its third market launch for self-driving vehicles, Ford announced plans to expand its self-driving business to Austin, TX.
Ford will continue its work with its partner Argo AI, to map roads and gather data to help improve how the vehicles move around Austin. Ford anticipates that its partnership with Austin will bring it closer to launching a self-driving commercial service. Ford’s prior two city partnerships for self-driving vehicles were with Miami-Dade County and Washington, D.C.
Over the next few years, Ford says it will develop a comprehensive understanding of what people and local businesses would find useful.
As it begins mapping roads and testing the self-driving system in Austin, Ford will also conduct business pilots to see how it can best deploy its vehicles. With a large university campus at its core and a growing downtown, as well as a dense population that is open to ride-hailing, Ford says there is an opportunity for self-driving vehicles to perform a wide number of services.
Ford says its ultimate goal is to build self-driving services in a way that complements an ecosystem of options. Austin Mayor Steve Adler offered more perspective on where self-driving vehicles fit into the city’s future and what the testing will actually look like. He said, “Almost 75% of Austinites commute by driving alone in personal vehicles. This is simply unsustainable. Our 20-year goal is for at least 50% of people to take advantage of other transportation options, like buses or bicycles. With our region’s population on track to double in the next 20 to 25 years, it’s clear we need to re-think how our right-of-way is used if we want people to be able to move around our city.”
He continued, “That’s why it’s exciting that Ford is bringing its self-driving vehicle operations to our city. As noted in our Smart Mobility Roadmap, self-driving vehicles offer the potential to expand mobility options for all our residents and present opportunities to increase the capacity of our existing transportation system.
“More specifically, we see great potential in two key areas: accessibility—in the future, self-driving vehicles have the potential to increase transportation choices for community members who previously had limited options; safety—according to national findings, 94% of crashes now are related to human error. Automated vehicles have the potential to drastically lower that statistic because machines don’t get tired and don’t drive while impaired.”
Adler noted that challenges remain to be resolved, including understanding exactly how changes to the transportation system can best advance the communities. He remarked, “Our Smart Mobility team has been working closely with Ford and we will continue that effort to ensure this technology helps make our city better and more equitable.”
Argo AI President Peter Rander added, “Over the coming months, our vehicles will be manually driven through east Austin as well as downtown, mapping the city’s main corridors in preparation for autonomous testing. Eventually we will expand beyond these areas, but these initial mapping trips help us develop a comprehensive understanding of the environment around our vehicles. For example, we use sensors on our vehicles to create high-resolution, 3D maps of streets, buildings and all permanent static objects in areas where we plan to operate.
“During our mapping process, though, we also get a sneak peek at what challenges may await us. That’s also true in Austin, which features heavy pedestrian activity, notably people riding bicycles and scooters. Scooters are especially interesting because they’re essentially motorized pedestrians, with speedy and unique movement behavior that needs to be accounted for. Austin has more scooter activity than we’ve seen in other cities where we’re currently testing.
“In addition to helping ensure our vehicles can safely navigate the streets, we’ll also concentrate on developing a self-driving system that drives as people expect it to. That requires developing a comprehensive understanding of local rules of the road and driving habits, which helps us better anticipate what others will do. These types of details go a long way towards developing a ride experience people feel comfortable with and find convenient.”