argo ford driverless car

Ford scales back driverless ambitions to focus on ‘nearer-term’ technologies

Image credit: reuters

Carmaker Ford has abandoned attempts to get US regulators to allow it to operate up to 2,500 self-driving vehicles annually without requiring a steering wheel.

In a letter sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Ford Motor Co said it was withdrawing its petition to get its driverless technology approved for the roads.

In October last year it was announced that Argo AI, an autonomous vehicle start-up that launched in 2017, was shutting down and being absorbed into its two main backers who were Ford and VW.

“As evidenced by the planned shutdown of our ADS partner Argo AI, we believe the road to fully autonomous vehicles, at scale, with a profitable business model, will be a long one,” Ford said in the letter.

“At this time, Ford has determined that it is more prudent to focus on nearer-term L2/L3 technologies, which do not require an exemption.

“Hence, we would like to withdraw the subject petition for an exemption from further consideration.”

Its focus on L2/L3 vehicles means that the responsibility for vehicle accidents remains with the driver rather than the complex and ill-defined legal ramifications posed by the introduction of driverless cars.

L2 vehicles are defined as those which can control both steering and the acceleration of the vehicle but the automation falls short of a full self-driving experience because a human is still required to take control of the car at any time.

The jump from L2 to L3 is substantial from a technological perspective, but subtle if not negligible from a human perspective.

Level 3 vehicles have 'environmental detection' capabilities and can make informed decisions for themselves, such as accelerating past a slow-moving vehicle. But they still require human override. The driver must remain alert and ready to take control if the system is unable to execute the task.

The sector is clearly in trouble despite bullish forecasts several years ago that consumers would already be seeing driverless technology starting to dominate the roads. Apple was developing its own project in secret which it reportedly scrapped in December after deciding it wasn’t feasible. Google’s Waymo also laid off some of its employees in January and is set to kill its trucking programme, according to TechCrunch.

But interest in the technology hasn’t completely ebbed away – Volvo Cars took full control of an autonomous driving software firm in January in a bid to ramp up its development of the technology.

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