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Removing the steering wheel from your car is not cheap …

Argo AI has received a 1 billion $ backing by Ford to provide cars with eyes, ears and brain by 2021. Image credit: The Verge

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.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.