Ford’s Concept for Autonomous Vehicles
There’s a lot of buzz swirling around one of the hottest topics in the car industry: autonomous vehicles. It’s sure to be a hot topic of discussion at a Ford dealership near you. Have you heard about this new technology?
Ford began testing autonomous vehicles on California roads in 2015. Then, in 2016, the company became the first carmaker to conduct snow tests for autonomous vehicles. In the same year, the carmaker, in collaboration with Volvo, teamed up with Google, Lyft, and Uber to create a coalition called “Safe Driving Coalition for Safer Streets.” The coalition’s goal is to work with local, state and national stakeholders to highlight the “societal and safety benefits” of autonomous technology.
Ranked as one of the world’s top vehicle manufacturers, Ford’s track record thus far makes it obvious the company is looking to position itself at the top of the design list. It continues making progress along the research and development path toward creating a Level 4, or nearly autonomous vehicle. The car manufacturer has stated it will skip the step of designing a Level 3, or semi-autonomous vehicle, a concept other manufacturers have embraced. This process is also referred to as conditional autonomy. Additionally, the carmaker has stated it will not use a current nameplate to achieve that goal. Ford has taken a firm stance that it will create an entirely new design for its first model.
In a recent interview with Medium, Ford’s Executive Vice President for Global Markets Jim Farley provided an overview of the manufacturer’s four-pronged design concept that includes:
- Commercial Grade
- Purposeful Design
- Safety Integration
According to “perceived” industry standards, per other car manufacturers, Ford has somewhat stepped out of the design box with a couple of the concepts. The company is striving to focus more on creating a fleet of autonomous vehicles to be used for commercial purposes, as opposed to vehicles marketed more for personal use. The carmaker took a significant step in promoting the concept when it once again teamed up with Domino’s for a pilot program that uses autonomous vehicles for pizza delivery. The pilot program rolled out in late 2017 in the Ann Arbor, Michigan, area, where random residents were selected to participate. Secondly, Ford’s autonomous vehicle will be a hybrid-electric. Other big carmakers have criticized this step, but Ford has not wavered. Farley stood behind the company’s decision, stating this model would allow more driving time before the vehicle needs to be recharged. Ford is committed to continuing to conduct tests in 2018 to evaluate its four-pronged process from a customer-experience perspective.
To remain on the cutting edge of the latest technology to complement its design concepts, in 2017, Ford made an estimated $1 billion investment in Argo Al, a leading design company in the artificial intelligence technology space, based in Pennsylvania. The investment is over a five-year span. The company will be responsible for designing the virtual driver system for Ford’s autonomous vehicles. According to the carmaker, this will be a collaborative effort between its current design team and Argo Al’s team. Additionally, Ford has been actively securing patents for technology it will include in its vehicles, which no doubt will include the autonomous fleet. In fact, the company ranked within the top 21 U.S. recipients of patents, with 1,530, according to the Intellectual Property Owners Association. Ford’s latest patent concept is quite unique. The autonomous software would help a vehicle detect potential threats to it, complemented by reactionary measures to notify vehicle occupants or other individuals in the nearby vicinity of the potential threat. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s looking more and more like Ford is going to reach the apex of the autonomy industry.
Ford has been diligently working to determine the primary location for manufacturing its autonomous vehicles, and it appears a decision has been made. According to Automotive News, the manufacturer is planning to move its production of a 300-mile crossover vehicle to Mexico. The manufacturing site will be the Ford plant in Cuautitlan. This will free up the necessary space for its autonomous vehicle production at the Flat Rock, Michigan, location. According to Ford, it’s a fiscally responsible business decision that will benefit the company, community, and industry. In fact, this business decision is projected to add 150 additional jobs to the local economy, increasing the total number of jobs from 700 to 850.
While the automotive giant is eager to stretch its R&D muscles, Ford is determined not to rush to get an autonomous vehicle to market. At the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China, company executive Bill Ford explained there are factors that must be considered, the most important of which is evaluating the vehicle’s societal impact. He elaborated on the fact that autonomy technology will have a far-reaching effect. For example, it will impact the job market and educational system. He expressed the importance of thoroughly understanding this process to effectively coordinate a smooth transition while making necessary adjustments to accommodate people, communities, and industries. Ford’s discussion helped substantiate the company’s projected timeline of introducing its first autonomous vehicle in 2021.
It is impossible not to notice that technology is changing and advancing every day. No place is it more obvious than the vehicles we ride in and travel alongside on the highways every day. Autonomy is the latest concept. Driverless vehicles used to be an idea portrayed in cartoons and futuristic movies. But that idea is slowly moving not only towards reality but toward becoming a norm. Ford has taken a leadership role in bringing this concept to fruition. The carmaker’s goal is creating a vehicle that provides safe, efficient travel while making a positive impact on communities around the United States and the world. Ford admits there’s still a lot of testing that needs to take place, but the car manufacturer has assured the public an autonomous vehicle will be a reality within the next few years. So be sure to visit the Ford dealership in your local area for a test drive when that day arrives.