Ford self-driving cars coming to Austin streets by the end of the year

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Ford announced Wednesday that it will be testing out, then launching its autonomous vehicle services in Austin.

Austin is one of three cities in which the company will test its technology. The self-driving cars have already been released in Miami and Washington D.C.

Ford Autonomous Vehicles CEO Sherif Marakby says the cars will begin appearing in downtown Austin and East Austin by the end of the year. At first, they’ll be driven by people, as they use Ford technology to map out Austin’s streets. Then, for a time, a safety driver and an engineer will sit in each car and monitor it while it drives the streets.

The cars are expected to be in commercial use in Austin by 2021. By that time, there will be no driver inside. Marakby says Ford is developing plans to both transport people and goods.

The automotive company is working with local businesses to develop a plan for which types of goods will be delivered.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler also hopes the autonomous cars will be able to provide help for those who can’t drive, like people with disabilities.

“It’s going to be testing the technology and seeing how it can drive equity and access in cities, and I’m just excited that Austin’s going to be part of that,” Adler said.

Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC CEO Sherif Marakby says his team hopes to help with Austin’s traffic congestion, as well.

“Autonomous cars can have multiple people in the car going from one place to another, and that reduces the number of single occupancy vehicles,” Marakby said.

Initially, the easy-to-spot vehicle making its debut in Austin will be a Ford Fusion with cameras and lasers on top. However, Ford is working to design a new type of vehicle specifically for autonomous driving, and that model is what will be on Austin’s streets once the test period is over.

The new vehicles will use the same four types of technology the tester cars are using: cameras, lasers, radar and ultrasonic sensors.

Other autonomous vehicles in Austin

In 2016, “Waymo” says it gave the first ride ever in a fully autonomous car in Austin. The cars, developed by Google, tested for a while throughout the city, but are no longer being tested in Austin.

Last year, Capital Metro began considering bringing in self-driving buses. A CapMetro spokeswoman says that’s still the goal eventually. However, changes in the permitting process for autonomous vehicles have slowed things down, so CapMetro says it won’t anytime soon.

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