Baidu, Ford back self-driv­ing tech

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By AGEN­CIES

Baidu Inc, China’s largest in­ter­net com­pany, and Ford Mo­tor Co an­nounced on Tues­day that they have jointly in­vested $150 mil­lion in Velo­dyne, a Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pany that makes laser-based sen­sors that are a ma­jor build­ing block in self-driv­ing cars.

The in­vest­ment is what Ford CEO Mark Fields told CNBC is part of an over­all in­crease of in­vest­ments in Sil­i­con Val­ley tech­nol­ogy firms and more than dou­bles the size of its Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia, re­search team to help speed de­vel­op­ment of self-driv­ing cars.

Ear­lier this year, Ford in­vested in an­other Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pany, Civil Maps, which is de­vel­op­ing ad­vanced map­ping for self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles.

The au­tomaker also an­nounced that it will of­fer a fully au­to­mated driver­less ve­hi­cle to com­mer­cial ride shar­ing fleets such as Uber in 2021.

Fields de­clined to say whether Ford plans to part­ner with Uber or Lyft in the rideshar­ing ven­ture, say­ing “all op­tions are open and on the ta­ble”. Uber, the largest US ride ser­vices com­pany, has forged part­ner­ships with other au­tomak­ers, in­clud­ing Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp.

Raj Nair, Ford’s chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer, said in an in­ter­view that the com­pany likely will not of­fer a sim­i­lar driver­less car, with­out steer­ing wheel or ped­als, to con­sumers un­til 2025 or later.

Ford did not dis­close the value of its tech­nol­ogy in­vest­ments, but they ap­pear to be dwarfed by those at Gen­eral Mo­tors (GM), which ear­lier this year spent $500 mil­lion to ac­quire a 9 per­cent stake in Lyft and ac­quired Cruise Au­to­ma­tion, a Sil­i­con Val­ley self-driv­ing soft­ware startup, for more than $1 bil­lion.

GM and Lyft are test­ing self­driv­ing soft­ware in spe­cially equipped ver­sions of the new Chevro­let Bolt elec­tric car.

Ford said it ex­pects to de­ploy 30 self-driv­ing Fu­sion Hy­brid pro­to­types this year.

AFP

Ford CEO Mark Fields shows off the new Velo­dyne Puck sen­sor at a news con­fer­ence on CES Press Day in Las Ve­gas.

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