Ford pledges $4bn to drive forward autonomous vehicles business

Ford has announced the creation of a new organization and $4 billion in investment through to 2023 to accelerate the firms efforts in developing autonomous vehicles.

The new business, which will be known as Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC, will include Ford’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams. It will also be structured to allow for investment from third parties.

“Ford has made tremendous progress across the self-driving value chain – from technology development to business model innovation to user experience,” said Jim Hackett, CEO of Ford Motor Company. “Now is the right time to consolidate our autonomous driving platform into one team to best position the business for the opportunities ahead.”

Sherif Marakby will head up the new business for the moment, reporting into Marcy Klevorn, the President of Ford’s Mobility group, with a hope aligning the two areas will improve development. The new group will also hold Ford’s ownership stake in Argo AI, the company’s Pittsburgh-based partner for self-driving system development. It should also be worth noting the $4 billion figure includes the $1 billion already to committed to Argo AI last year. Despite the misleading PR play from Ford, it is still a notable pledge.

Spinning off business unit to allow more freedoms in the autonomous vehicles world is starting to look like a popular move after General Motors did the same with Cruise in May. Cruise, which was initially bought by General Motors in March 2016 for $581 million to bolster the software capabilities, also managed to attract attention from Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Vision Fund, which committed to a $2.25 billion investment.

While rules, regulations, the ecosystem, infrastructure or the consumer, are not ready for the world of autonomous vehicles, progress is being made. General Motors filed a Safety Petition with the Department of Transportation for its fourth-generation self-driving Cruise AV, which it believes will be production ready by 2019. With General Motors making rapid progress, the cash injection and spin off from Ford becomes less surprising.

Ford expects its vehicles to be production ready by 2021, though with General Motors and Google’s Waymo both aiming to hit the roads before this point, Ford has some catching up to do. Realistically, although the technology might be ready, mass market penetration is likely to be decades away. Aside from the fact few are likely to swallow the substantial price tag as soon as the vehicles are available, there is still a huge amount of progress to be made in parallel spaces.

Rules and regulations will have to be-written to start, and the insurance industry will have to be restructured to account for less intervention from humans. The question also needs to answered on the allocate criminal and civil responsibility should an incident occur; should the owner of the vehicle be responsible, or should the automotive manufacturers be blamed as they own the AI? Cybersecurity is also a massive oversight. Finally, consumers need to be comfortable handing over control to a computer. We suspect the latter will take a huge amount of time and PR campaigns.

Nokia, AT&T, Qualcomm and Ford have a C-V2X party

Cellular-vehicle-to-whatever is a bit of a mouthful, so Nokia, AT&T, Qualcomm and Ford decided to abbreviate it. Nice work.

To celebrate their new abbreviation, the fantastic four decided to plan a nice lot of lovely testing in San Diego, California. The goal of the trials is to demonstrate the potential of C-V2X technologies, including support for improved automotive safety, automated driving and traffic efficiency.

There seems to be a bit of a spate of trying show what a good idea connected/autonomous/extremely clever cars are. Google’s Waymo subsidiary has been making persuasive videos down the road in Phoenix, Arizona, featuring wholesome, happy families enjoying incident-free autonomous car journeys.

The reasons for all this are clear: C-V2X, autonomous driving, etc are emerging technologies that promise to disrupt not only business models but social ones too. You can’t just inflict new things on the world and then be surprised at a degree of hesitance and luddite friction. Companies have learned that you need to prime the market first.

Lots of partners means lots of canned quotes, and since Qualcomm seems to have been put in charge of the press release, that will probably mean generic, risk-averse and self-congratulatory, but let’s find out eh?

“Leveraging the evolution of embedded cellular technologies for V2X communications holds great potential to advance safety benefits to all road users,” said Cameron Coursey, VP of AT&T Internet of Things Solutions. “Working with industry leaders, such as Ford, Nokia, Qualcomm Technologies, and state and local government agencies, we will together lead the way to safer, more secure, cost-effective, and efficient next-generation solutions.”

“The advancement of cellular technology for C-V2X applications is very encouraging,” said Don Butler, executive director, connected vehicle and services at Ford. “This technology promises to meet, and in some cases, exceed the performance requirements of vehicle communication being proposed by relevant government agencies while leveraging existing in-vehicle connectivity frameworks.

“C-V2X provides a reassuring path to technology advancements necessary to support emerging developments in autonomy, automated driving, and mobility. We are keen to investigate all aspects of this opportunity and support cross industry efforts that make that possible.”

“LTE and 5G technologies have the potential to dramatically transform our lives, and none more so than in transportation,” said Thorsten Robrecht, head of vertical network slices at Nokia. “Nokia has a keen interest in creating safe, efficient, and dynamic operating environments for autonomous vehicles, and we have gained much experience from our European projects over the last few years. As such, we are extremely excited to be involved in this project with AT&T, Ford, and Qualcomm Technologies, taking meaningful steps to evaluate what this technology will be able to deliver.”

“Qualcomm Technologies is working towards solutions designed for tomorrow’s safer and autonomous vehicles, not only by contributing and evolving C-V2X technology, but also by designing technological breakthroughs in other key areas such as 4G and 5G, precise positioning, machine learning, and computer vision,” said Nakul Duggal, VP, product management, automotive at Qualcomm. “We are pleased to work with industry and government leaders, in our hometown, testing and refining the technologies for the more connected, automated vehicle of tomorrow and advanced cellular infrastructure which includes small cells and roadside units.”

Told you.

Ford Lyfts its self-driving ambitions

Ford has announced a new partnership with ride-sharing business Lyft, which is proving to be a bit of a social butterfly in the autonomous world.

The partnership itself will focus on playing around with the software so Ford cars will be able to seamlessly connect with the ride-hailing networks. What this means in the long-run remains to be seen, but if Ford has ambitions to dominate the Lyft fleet, like Prius does with Uber, it might find some resistance from General Motors, which is an investor in Lyft.

But the top-line mission statement from the pair; how do you create a proposition which makes it as easy for customers to hail a self-driving car as a normal one?

“Today, we’re announcing a significant step toward bringing self-driving vehicles to the masses thanks to a new partnership with Lyft that will help both companies progress toward a more affordable, dependable and accessible transportation future,” said Sherif Marakby, Ford’s VP of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification.

On the surface of it, it does sound like a useful partnership for both parties. Lyft has a huge number of customers, as well as knowledge of how traffic moves around cities. Ford has bigged itself up for  autonomous vehicle technology development and large scale manufacturing. And it’s a tie for fleet management and big data experience. Bringing all of this experience together will make a useful mix for the development of self-driving cars.

Such a partnership is demonstrative of Ford’s renewed focus on technology which has been on the up since the appointment of Jim Hackett as CEO. Prior to the top job, Hackett led the car brands venture into autonomous and connected vehicles.

In truth, Ford has not been one of the frontrunners, but it has hardly been shy in the world of autonomous vehicles. In February, the team announced a $1 billion investment in AI and robotics firm Argo AI. As part of the agreement, Argo AI will assist in developing a virtual driver system as Ford moves towards its ambitions of fully autonomous vehicles by 2021. Ford also hopes to monetize the platform through software licensing agreements as well.

From Lyft’s perspective, while it is an admirable ambition to try and bring the world together to play nice, it should be wary its carefree attitude towards relationships doesn’t turn sour. Lyft might be happy to cooperate with everyone (mainly because that benefits it) working with that many competitors might lead to several broken bridges.

The commercial world is a cut-throat one, and who is to say one company might break ties because of a relationship with a competitor. The quantity versus quality argument will have supporters on both sides, but paying too much time developing new relationships as opposed to activating the current ones might turn around and bite Lyft if it isn’t careful.