Ford: Fully driverless cars 'will be a reality within the next five years'

'If not sooner,' according to Ken Washington, VP of Engineering at Ford

Ford announced at its "Further with Ford" conference held in Palo Alto, California that self-driving cars are coming sooner than we might expect.

"Fully autonomous cars will be a reality within the five years, if not sooner," said Dr. Ken Washington, Vice President of Research and Advanced Engineering at the Ford Motor Company.

"We are proud to announce today that Ford is taking self-driving cars from the research and development phase to advanced engineering," Washington said. "R&D was about finding out if it was possible, and the answer was a resounding 'yes.' Advanced engineering is about creating the software and hardware needed to make it a reality."

In a one-hour panel on the future of automation, Washington along with two other speakers - Genevieve Bell and Jeevan Kalanithi of 3D Robotics - described how Ford vehicles have slowly transitioned from fully manual vehicles to their current state of semi-autonomy, citing improvements like the automatic braking system, parking assist and adaptive cruise control.

Washington acknowledged that Ford isn't necessarily the first and only company working on autonomous vehicles, even admitting that rival automotive maker Tesla already sells vehicles with self-driving technology already installed. Current roadblocks include state and federal laws that prohibit the use of self-driving cars on public roads, and better software that can recognize pedestrians' intents instead of simply their position on the sidewalk.