Ford Motor Company on Tuesday said it has moved one step closer to self-driving cars, shifting its autonomous-vehicle research efforts into an advanced-engineering project.
"For us, that means it is really entering the second phase of three phases of bringing the technology into production," said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president for global product development. "Our team is now working to make the sensing and computing technology feasible for production while we are continuing to test and refine the algorithms."
Nair's comments were made during a media event near Ford's new research-and-innovation center, located in California's Silicon Valley.
The event was staged to provide an update on Ford's autonomous-vehicle development.
During the event, the automaker announced that Randy Visintainer, a 29-year Ford veteran, will be director of autonomous-vehicle development. In addition, Ford announced that wearable technology soon will be offered in the form of an app extension for smartphones.
The automaker stopped short of laying out a specific timetable for launching self-driving cars. But it's clear the plan is to make them the Model T for the new millennium — a vehicle that will be available to the masses of car shoppers.
"For us, autonomous vehicles are really about making that technology accessible to everyone, just as Henry Ford did with the automobile more than 100 years ago," Nair said.
He said the journey to full autonomy "will be a series of steps and stages. We already have autonomous Ford vehicles undergoing testing, and we are already manufacturing and selling vehicles with semi-autonomous technology."
Such technology includes active park assist, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning.
Nair said over the next several years Ford will roll out radar-based technologies to a wide range of vehicles, such as adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring, as well as camera-based technologies to keep a vehicle in its lane.
In addition, pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection will be offered some time next year on an unnamed U.S. vehicle. The system is currently offered on the Ford Mondeo, which is sold in Europe.
"This continues our plan to roll out this technology on most of our products globally by 2019 and consistent with the Ford value of making this technology accessible to everyone," he said.
Nair said the automaker is working on "extending connectivity solutions to wearable technology."
A MyFord Mobile app extension will be offered soon for smart watches. Owners of a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle will be able to check their vehicle's driving range, battery charge, and the location where their vehicle is parked.
Nair also announced a collaboration with Redwood City, California-based Carbon3D to quickly produce high-quality automotive-grade parts.
"Working with this technology will help us quickly move from ideas to production," he said. "Carbon3D has developed a printing technology that grows objects from a pool of resins 25 to 100 times faster than conventional 3D printing process."
Ford is not the only automaker or supplier hard at work on autonomous vehicles.
Nissan vowed to roll out a self-driving vehicle by 2020, Google will launch public road tests of its autonomous vehicles this summer and Delphi made a splashy entrance into the 2015 New York Auto Show with its self-driving prototype.
Edmunds says: The buzz is growing for self-driving vehicles as Ford gets into the act along with lots of other automakers.