Recent headlines suggest that Ford’s outlooks within the self-driving market look bad, with lousy credit ratings and analyses arguing that they are lagging behind rivals like Waymo and GM. President and CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicle LLC, Sherif Marakby, asserted these statements in an interview with The Verge, saying that “if we wanted to call a launch of 100 vehicles next year and go into some business, we could do that”. But unlike other companies that rush to get make their technologies publicly available by next year, Ford wants to solve the problems connected to both transport safety, value chains and understanding of customer needs before launch. Instead of 100 vehicles, they vision a launch of 100,000 vehicles after testing and thorough evaluation of the complete system and its business model.
Real life testing was recently started in Miami, where Ford together with start-up company Argo AI (in which Ford invested $1 billion last year) staged a futuristic scenario of autonomous ride-hailing vehicles transporting people and packages along specified routes, including stops for maintenance and deliveries to showcase an example of a complete and functional system. The actual AVs were equipped with safety drivers and co-pilots, and deliveries were only empty packages, but the idea was to offer a holistic experience similar to those of the future. According to Marakby, the revenues from large-scale implementation, additional delivery and in-car experiences will benefit their service and beat rivals by offering ride-hailing at a significantly lower cost.
Regarding the performance of Ford’s autonomous vehicles, Miami was chosen due to its complex traffic environments with lots of congestion, hasty driving behaviours and lots of construction work sites. Argo AI vice president of robotics, Brett Browning compares the choice of a testing site by choosing where to ski. "If you stay in easy environments, on the green slopes, you solve problems, but it turns out not the right set of problems, you never even see the right set of problems". Argo AI president, Pete Randers address the importance of a safe and confident self-driving vehicle. "You must act confidently, you must move decisively, and you must signal not only with turn signals but by motion”. "Timid and halting behaviours are not really going to work well, and other drivers will quickly get frustrated. There's a pace in Miami and you need to fit in."
Ford seems very cautious and is performing thorough testing to create a complete system including business models that might result in lower costs for ride-hailing customers. This could possibly be the way to go, but since there are many other companies and ventures between industry actors aiming at implementation as early as next year, I feel that Ford and Argo AI risk falling behind, even if they were to directly achieve their vision of this multifunctional system. By the time they launch their service, other companies that have become more publicly confiding might have expanded their operations to similar services already.
Written by Hampus Alfredsson, RISE Viktoria.