Ford Aims to Be Software System Integrator for Autonomous Cars

Ford Motor Co. wants to position itself as a “software system integrator” for autonomous vehicles, Bob Shanks, the automaker’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said during Ford’s investor presentation call today.

Rather than develop the technology in-house, Ford has been investing billions on autonomous software and transportation-as-a-service providers, in particular.

Last month, the automaker announced its plans to invest $1 billion over the next five years in artificial intelligence company Argo AI, and just last week it was revealed that the Ford invested in stealth autonomous software company Autonomic.

Another notable investment speared by Ford includes LiDAR developer Velodyne, which Shanks explained was because the Morgan Hill, Calif.-based company was closest to bringing lidar technology to market.

“This is a space where there will be pivots and changes,” Shanks said on the call. “It will be an ever-evolving landscape,” and engineering teams are “well aware” of what OEMs, tier 1 suppliers, startups, and high-tech companies are doing in the autonomous vehicle space, he added.

Ford is working to develop a virtual driver system for the automaker’s autonomous vehicle coming in 2021 — and for potential licenses to other companies. And Argo AI, specifically, is set up to be able to license the technology to other companies.

This puts Ford in a position to be able to “serve the greater opportunity of autonomous vehicles and benefit from the shareholder value that comes with that opportunity,” Alan Hall, communications manager for mobility technology, autonomous vehicles, research and innovation, told Mobility Buzz last month, just after the OEM’s announcement to invest in Argo AI.

Argo AI has a “healthy respect” for what it takes to integrate the software part of an autonomous vehicle with the hardware part, Hall said as he explained Ford’s decision to invest in the startup, rather than develop the technology in-house. “The way we look at it is –almost with a human body analogy — the software is the brains of a driver, and the hardware is really the skeleton and the muscles of a human body.”

“We really felt that our visions for the potential of autonomous vehicle technology was align between our team and the founders of Argo AI. And on top of that, we were aligned around the tech approach to autonomous vehicles. They have the same ideas for what is needed to deliver a dependable and reliable vehicle driving capability. So that comes down to the multi-modal sensor suite, meaning they see value in LiDAR sensors, cameras, and radar all working together.”

Ford Motor’s total U.S. sales in February were down 4% year over year to 208,440 vehicles. Retail sales were down 3% in February to 134,576 vehicles, as compared to the same month last year, while fleet sales declined 5% with 73,864 vehicles sold.


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