New Ford CEO Jim Hackett says the advent of autonomous driving technology has been overhyped by the industry and press alike, and that he wouldn't count on seeing fully-driverless cars on the roads in 2021.
Asked this week if the Blue Oval is still committed to bringing out a self-driving taxi fleet by 2021, Hackett suggested that while the company will have advanced autonomous tech in market "in that time frame", the full reality does not quite align with the goals of his predecessor, Mark Fields.
"[...] the nature of the romanticism by everybody in the media about how this robot works is overextended right now," he said in an interview with American site, SFGate.
"It will be a progressive thing, just like computing. If you think about a vehicle that can drive anywhere, anytime, in any circumstance, cold, rain — that’s longer than 2021. And every manufacturer will tell you that."
Ford's new boss added that a more realistic goal is looking towards partial autonomy, where both drivers and artificial intelligence can co-exist.
"Ten years ago, it was about thinking of the vehicle having this independence. I think it’ll be a co-dependent model in the future. Co-dependence will actually create a safe envelope for the vehicles," he said.
"There’s never been a transportation system ever that didn’t have some kind of co-dependence. Like maps in cars, or air traffic control with airplanes. Even the most advanced military drones are still using low-Earth-orbit satellites.
Hackett's comments are in line with the levels of automation laid out by America's Society of Automotive Engineers. These distinct tiers show that while full automation (level 4) could be achieved by 2021, it is unlikely that vehicles without driver controls (level 5) will be let loose anytime soon.
Just a year ago, Ford revealed its plans to introduce a driverless vehicle fleet in less than five years, saying in its 'Smart Mobility' corporate vision that it aims to launch a "high-volume, fully autonomous vehicle for ride-sharing" around 2021.
When asked whether there will still be a place for the vehicle one can buy and drive themselves in the future, Hackett said: "We don’t know that autonomous vehicle intelligence in the future will all be delegated to a service that no one owns but everyone uses".
"It could play a role in vehicles that people own, vehicles that aren’t supposed to crash. You’re buying the capability because of the protection it gives you."
Additionally, Hackett took a swipe at an unnamed technology company that is pushing for full autonomy as fast as possible - believed to be Google.
"[Ford] can actually advantage itself both ways. Compared to — I don’t want to name anyone, but a tech company that’s not in the vehicle business — they hope it will only go one way, right? Today, 60-70 days into my job, I just want to make sure the possibility isn’t closed.
Other reports suggest that the race to full autonomy is hampered by confusion surrounding the distinction between Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous systems - the former, according to Ford, "can complete all aspects of driving without a human driver to intervene", while Level 5 is "full automation – in which a vehicle can perform all driving tasks, no matter the environmental or roadway conditions".