Baidu, Ford back self-driving tech
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 and 90 next year in California, Arizona and Michigan.