Ford Finds Autonomous Competition in the Silicon Valley
It might seem strange to see Ford, an auto industry powerhouse , jockeying for position amongst the well-known tech brands at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress . But the 113-year-old company is making no secret of its need to adapt in the face of change.
Start-ups like Uber and Lyft are changing the way people view car ownership whilst the likes of Google and Tesla are forging ahead with autonomous and electric vehicles themselves. Even Apple is rumoured to be working on a self-driving car. The reason Ford was at MWC was to promote and explain its expansion into ‘ smart mobility’ – everything from pay-by-the-minute car hire (GoDrive) to autonomous driving (Active Park Assist).
And the company insists it’s not intimidated by the technology coming from Silicon Valley, but rather sees it as an opportunity.
“We’re not scared of Silicon Valley at all,” Dr Ken Washington, the vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering at Ford, told Mirror Online at MWC.
Dr Ken Washington, Ford’s VP of research and advanced engineering: “We’re excited about it because it raised the conversation and it made people think about cars who used to not think about cars. We go to the universities and we talk to the brightest students that are working in robotics, computer science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, electronics design, software development.”
Like many big car companies, Ford is based in Detroit. Specifically, Dearborn. But that hasn’t stopped the company from stamping its own mark on the Bay Area.
“We put our own lab at Silicon Valley so we can play with them. We’re really excited about that lab because it gave us a seat at the table,” said Dr Washington.
The Ford Kuga 2016 was revealed at the Mobile World Congress tech show and features SYNC 3: “We have over 100 employees there. Those people there are doing real technology work. They’ve met with over 200 startups in the Silicon Valley area. We’re doing a lot of our autonomous vehicle research there. It’s not a Detroit vs Silicon Valley thing we’re part of the community and we’re very excited about it.”
But when it comes to autonomous cars the tech companies have a different view than traditional automakers like Ford.
Whilst Google and Tesla expect to have self-driving cars taking to the streets by 2020 , Ford believes it might take a little bit longer.
“Our priority is not in making marketing claims or being in a race for the first autonomous car on the road,” said Ford CEO Mark Fields earlier this year.
Travel tips: Ford is pushing ahead with testing in white conditions to develop the vehicles further
“Our priority is in making the first Ford autonomous vehicle accessible to the masses and truly enhancing customers’ lives.”
That message has been carried on to Mobile World Congress and it’s one that Ford is keen to push.
“We take safety very seriously. And quite frankly that’s one of the reasons we’re not in a race to put out a vehicle and then put marketing around it saying this is an autonomous car,” Dr Washington told Mirror Online.
“Because we think before we put out a vehicle that we say is autonomous, it has to really be autonomous. Which means it’s got to be safe and it’s got to be able to take the driver out of the loop.
Driverless cars: Ford’s autonomous vehicles have sensors all the way around the cars: “We feel that pressure every day but we don’t give in to that pressure in our autonomous vehicle plan. We understand the technical challenges to get there and no-one should underestimate the hard problems that still need to be solved to get to level 4 autonomous driving. We’re working very hard to get there. We’re not going to rush that product to market and give in to any pressure to get there any faster.”
The fact that Ford is representing itself at big-name tech shows like MWC and CES is evidence itself the company is taking its tech seriously. And it’s not afraid to let the tech companies know that it’s been around for a long time and learned a few things in the process.
“I think one of the things the tech sector can learn from us is how to deal with complexity at a different scale. Because we deal with complexity at an amazing scale. Yes, cell phones are really complex devices but, quite frankly, a car is even more complex.”
Put more bluntly, no-one ever died from a malfunctioning cell phone.
Ford also chose the technology-focused Mobile World Congress show to unveil its new Kuga SUV running its SYNC 3 navigation and entertainment software.
The front-wheel drive Kuga also sports Ford’s Perpendicular Parking technology that helps drivers with parking in spaces alongside other cars.
Inside is a 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine and Ford quotes 45.6mpg thanks to its Intelligent All Wheel Drive system. This system adjusts the amount of torque sent to each wheel to optimise handling and traction in slippy conditions. A 2.0-litre model will also be available that hits 60mpg.
If the new Kuga is a sign of the technological times to come from Ford, then there’s no reason to suspect the company won’t notch up another 113 years of car making.
Would you feel safe in a driverless car?
Originally posted on the Mirror.