Ford to expand autonomous-car research in race to launch robo-taxi service

Ford has already set out its ambitious plan to launch taxi and delivery services using autonomous vehicles by 2021, and is working steadily in a bid to achieve its goal.

Already testing its autonomous technology in Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C., the car giant is now preparing to extend its operations to Austin, Texas, TechCrunch reported this week, citing sources familiar with the matter.

In a statement to the news outlet, Ford declined to confirm that it’s planning to test its driverless cars in Austin, though it didn’t deny it, either.

“We are on track to announce the next deployment city in which we plan to expand our self-driving technology and business testing efforts by the end of this year,” the company said, adding that it would offer further details “at the appropriate time.”

The recent discovery of an online Ford job listing for an “autonomous vehicles market specialist” based in Austin appears to offer further evidence of the automaker’s plans for the city. The ad describes autonomous vehicles as “an important part of Ford’s future” and asks for the “best and brightest” to join its team. It says the role requires “critical thinking, problem solving capabilities, and a ‘get it done’ attitude to help make strategic decisions that will enable Ford to be a leader in autonomy, connectivity, mobility, analytics, and customer experience.”

Ford is planning to invest $4 billion by 2023 in its recently created autonomous driving subsidiary, Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC., with a further $1 billion going to autonomous-vehicle software company Argo A.I. to help it develop its technology.

Ford has also partnered with Chinese tech titan Baidu for driverless-car trials there, and hooked up with outfits such as Domino’s Pizza,  Walmart, and Postmates for trial services in the U.S. using autonomous cars to deliver goods to customers.

These growing efforts have helped to place Ford alongside Waymo and GM Cruise as the main three players in the race to create large-scale commercial services using autonomous vehicles, according to a recent study by Navigant Research. The study arrived at its rankings after examining 10 criteria that included technical capability and business-plan viability.

But as the Detroit News pointed out in a report this week, rising research and development costs coupled with regulatory hurdles mean the road to large-scale commercial services using self-driving vehicles is likely to be a bumpy one.

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