Ford said today it is tripling the number of autonomous vehicles in its fleet of research and development vehicles. It also made other announcements aimed at showing that it is a modern car company.
Ford made the announcements during its press event at the 2016 International CES, the big tech trade show this week in Las Vegas. The auto industry is worth $2.3 trillion, and Ford has 6 percent of that. The transportation services market is $5.4 trillion, but Ford makes no money in that business. The company said that is going to change, however, as it invests more broadly in transportation.
Ford said it is creating a fleet of Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles and accelerating the development and testing of its virtual driver software in both urban and suburban environments. The fleet will use Velodyne’s solid-state hybrid Ultra Puck auto sensor for precision mapping. Ford said it is testing 30 vehicles in California, Arizona, and Michigan.
“I predict that 2016 will be a revolutionary year for the auto industry,” said Ford CEO Mark Fields at the press event. “We are completely rethinking how we approach the business, with one foot in today and one foot in tomorrow.”
Ford intends to bring 13 electric vehicles to market by 2002, he said.
And the company has partnered with drone maker DJI to develop drone-to-vehicle technology to improve emergency services and commercial business efficiency. The communication between car and drone will happen through the Ford Sync AppLink.
Ford is also exploring how to integrate Amazon Echo, Alexa, and Wink with Ford Sync. On stage, Amazon’s Greg Hart showed how you could use voice commands to start your car.
Ford also said that it has partnered with TechStars Mobility to scout for new startup talent. It will set aside $120,000 for startup funding and training for up to 12 companies. The program is now accepting applications from new startups working on mobility solutions.
Fields noted that we live in our cars now, and that two-thirds of all fast-food purchases are now made at drive-through windows. The global middle class is expected to double by 2030, with cities getting overcrowded. The result will be traffic jams, and car companies will have to come up with clever tech solutions to deal with these issues.
“This is an opportunity to make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves,” Fields said.
Later this year, Ford Sync’s 15 million users (43 million by 2020) will be able to integrate with Apple Play and Android Auto technologies to sync with smartphones.