Ford and Google vs. The World

The FT has a good article breaking down the dichotomy between Ford’s approach to self-driving cars and GM’s.

For self-driving car enthusiasts, this is the Level 4 vs. Level 3 distinction.

In layman’s terms, this is the difference between fully autonomous vehicles, and vehicles that have self-driving features but require a human driver.

The Level 4 (fully autonomous) approach is championed by Google and Ford:

Ken Washington, Ford’s head of research and advanced engineering, insists there is no alternative to the company’s approach. There is “no reliable model” for handing control back to drivers in semi-autonomous vehicles at short notice, he says, as systems like GM’s Super Cruise demand in certain situations.

“If you’re told you don’t need to pay attention to something, you could go to sleep and, in a matter of a few milliseconds, you could be told you have to wake up, have your wits about you, that the vehicle needs you to take control,” he adds.

Of course, GM believes differently:

GM’s incremental strategy on self-driving cars is similar to that of most automakers, including Sweden’s Volvo. Germany’s Daimler and Tesla of the US, the electric car manufacturer, already offer systems similar to Super Cruise on some vehicles.

Eric Raphael, GM programme manager for Super Cruise, says the company is building up from existing systems such as cruise control because it is a “big step” to start entrusting even limited driving entirely to vehicles.

I find both approaches exciting. Ultimately, though, the sooner we can get to Level 4 and all of its attendant benefits, the better.

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