Ford Ramps Up Silicon Valley Autonomous Car Development Effort

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2016-08-17 Print this article Print
Ford Autonomous Cars

This is a good move by Ford. The last thing the company needs is a headline similar to what Tesla experienced when one of its drivers collided with a tractor-trailer and was killed. The fact that the driver was apparently acting irresponsibly at the time is lost on most people.

So what will riders in Ford’s new autonomous car find when it starts running its first laps in autonomous service? I’m speculating here, because clearly Ford has nothing to show me. But if you look at other types of autonomous transportation, you should have an idea.

The vehicle with no driver controls may well resemble widely used autonomous devices such as airport terminal shuttles, in which you enter a compartment with lots of windows. The device will already know where you’re going, but it will have to confirm that it picked up the right passenger. Perhaps a smartphone app will take care of that.

The vehicle will probably communicate with the passengers verbally and on a screen, but otherwise it should be pretty boring—sort of like riding in a very advanced elevator. Beyond that, it’s hard to say, although I suspect that some “Jetsons” vision out of the 1950s of a relaxing ride with card games and cocktails is probably stretching the picture a little.

Like Ford, the GM plans with Lyft are apparently similar, allowing the autonomous testing to happen in a defined area with known conditions.

At this point, nobody is saying where the first public autonomous rides will happen, but it’ll probably be in a city with mild weather to eliminating snow and ice as a difficult variable and deep familiarity with technology.

Normally I’d suggest San Francisco or Austin, but both cities have a strong antipathy towards car sharing, so it’s more likely to be somewhere like Palo Alto or San Diego. But of course, those are just guesses.

The first public use of autonomous cars may not even be from the companies making the announcements. Apple is said to be working on such a vehicle as is Google. Volkswagen and BMW have been working on autonomous cars for some time. Any of those could have a surprise announcement before 2021.

What will happen whenever it happens is that cars will become two different types of devices – some that are autonomous and some that must be driven. Autonomous cars are probably the best answer for individual transportation, but there are other reasons for cars, and I remind myself of that every time I go look at the antique Mercedes sports car that rests in my garage, and which one day I may again take for a drive on a twisty mountain road.


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