Following launches in Miami and Washington, DC, Ford and its self-driving car partner, Argo AI, are packing up and opening shop in Austin, Texas.
The automaker said on Wednesday it will expand to the Lone Star state, marking its third autonomous vehicle test market. Ford had plenty of reasons to choose Austin over numerous other cities, chief among them the fact Austin is projected to undergo a population influx in the decades to come.
According to the US Census Bureau, Austin is the fastest growing metro area in the country. By 2040, personal vehicle use could double on local streets. At the same time, highway capacity is expected to grow by just 15%.
With a growing population, local officials are preparing to handle infrastructure challenges. Ford believes self-driving cars have an important part to play. The automaker will work with local and state officials to ensure it doesn't simply usher self-driving cars onto city roads without a game plan. Instead, Ford and Argo AI want to integrate its autonomous vehicles into the wider transportation system at large.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said 75% of locals travel by themselves in a car. More cars for more people will only add to gridlock and strain on local roads. The city's plan over the next 20 years is to encourage 50% of people to choose a different transportation method, such as biking or buses. In the future, autonomous Fords could provide another avenue for people to carpool to a destination, reducing traffic in the process.
Not only might Ford's self-driving car tests lead to fewer personal cars on city streets, but both local officials and the automaker believe it could open up a whole new way of transporting goods and services around the city. Ford's goal remains to launch a commercial service in 2021, and it'll build a specific hybrid vehicle to carry both people and goods.
None of this will happen overnight, Ford said. The company plans to carefully study how to best deploy autonomous cars over the next few years. Along the way, it should help ensure they don't add to the growing congestion problems. Ford will begin with mapping the area's roads and conducting business pilots to understand how to deploy autonomous cars.