Ford will launch self-driving ride service in Austin in 2021

Photo via Flickr

The Texas capital joins Washington, DC and Miami as Ford’s first markets

Ford has expanded the list of U.S. cities where it will deploy its self-driving cars to include Austin, Texas. Austin joins Washington, DC, and Miami as places where Ford’s autonomous vehicles will roam the streets.

Ford previously announced that it would use a fleet of autonomous vehicles to provide commercial transportation services. That service is still set to launch in 2021. The service will compete with Uber and Lyft but will also move cargo using driverless vehicles.

A year ago, Ford announced it would begin testing its driverless cars on public streets in the nation’s capital. At the time, Ford sold that partnership with the DC government as a way to create jobs, along with an additional way to move people around in a city where traffic congestion seems to get worse by the week.

Ford’s self-driving cars are built around Fusion Hybrid sedans and are being jointly developed with Argo AI, a company in which it and Volkswagen hold majority interest. Ford's cargo transportation service will use specially-built utility vehicles.

Ford said adding Austin to its list of cities was a logical choice since it is growing quickly, presenting the company with needed challenges to overcome.

Ideal test market

“In each of the last eight years, Austin has been the fastest-growing metro region in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau,” Ford said in its announcement. “That growth has been felt by residents, as it provides new jobs as well as a diverse food and entertainment scene, but it has also affected how Austinites travel throughout the city.”

Ford says the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization predicts vehicle use in the Austin region could double by 2040, while highway capacity will only grow 15 percent.

As a first step, a Ford team will begin manually driving the Fusion test vehicles throughout Austin to map city streets and build a database of driver and pedestrian behaviors. The company says it sees no obstacle to launching the service as planned in 2021.

Waymo, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, has already launched a self-driving ride service, but with human attendants, in Phoenix.

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