Ford Motor Company announced in August 2016 the plan to sell a car without pedals and steering wheels in 2021, a full class 5 autonomous vehicles. Doing that is not going to be easy, nor cheap.
A year after the announcement I read that Ford is investing 1 billion $ in the Argo AI company to provide awareness to its future cars. Argo is a small company that is working to leverage AI to make sense of the environment, using the data coming from a variety of sensors. This follows the investment in Velodyne, a company developing LIDAR sensors (laser based radar) and the acquisition of SAIPS, an Israeli company focussing on computer vision and machine learning.
Actually, the list of companies that Ford is investing in, and acquiring, is pretty long and it tells a lot about the high technology stakes faced in the development and commercialisation of an autonomous vehicle.
Creating a self driving car is way more complex than creating an autonomous flying aircraft. For the latter is flying in a controlled space where everything is carefully planned and monitored, whilst a self driving car will need to face plenty of unexpected situations and first of all make sense of what is happening and of what might be about to happen. In simple words creating a self driving cars equates to create a virtual “human” driver!
I am not sure that by 2021 we will actually see self driving cars in the mass market (we will surely have class 3 and in certain, specific, area class 4 vehicles). However, whenever we will succeed in having class 5 vehicles for the mass market we will also have a revolution in many other sectors that will exploit the capability of fully autonomous systems, in hospitals, in hotels, in the factory and, of course, at home. For this reason I think that class 5 self driving car will be the tip of the iceberg signalling a profound change in the way we will see and interact with our environment.