If you listen to the breathless way that autonomous vehicles are reported in the media you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re just a few, short years away from car owners being able to take their hands off the wheel and catch 40 winks while getting to their destination.
But reality and roadways are far more complex. And that’s why Ford Motor Co. says it isn’t in a rush to deliver a self-driving car to market.
“There are so many elements to [autonomous vehicles],” Ford’s executive chairman Bill Ford said at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China. “You have to have smart cars, smart cities, we have to have a discussion somewhere about ethics and trust.”
“It’s very easy to get captivated and fall in love with the tech but you have to take a step back and say to yourself, ‘Is this actually helping people, individual customers, and is it helping society?’
“People sort of play fast and loose with the AV stuff, ‘We’re going to have AVs on the road by X’, ‘We’re going to have AVs on the road by Y’. I don’t want to play that game because it’s more important we get that right. It’s about trust.”
It should be noted, that Ford has made public proclamations about its timeline for a Level 4 autonomous car. Dr. Ken Washington, Ford’s VP for research and advanced engineering, said in April that Ford will have a car capable of driving itself in nearly all conditions by 2021, and that it would be available to customers between 5 and 10 years later.
The company’s plan is to skip semi-autonomous systems like Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s newly-launched (and well reviewed) Super Cruise, and instead place a big bet on full self-driving cars. And full autonomy, deployed at scale, poses a number of issues for job displacement—trucking and driving is the number one employer of men without a college degree in the U.S.
Bill Ford said he recognized the problems but also highlighted some of the potential societal benefits: “It should enable people to easily get to health care.
“There have also been studies that show that part of the problem with poverty is people don’t live where the jobs are and they can’t get to where the jobs are. But if we can provide low-cost solutions with autonomous shuttles, we can go to where people live and get them to where the jobs are. That will be a really great thing.”