Today at CES 2015, Ford CEO Mark Fields delivered Ford's vision for the connected car of the future, and it's one in which an automaker is working to make a big change to even their own business model. In Ford's future world, you won't have to own a car to use a car. Sure, that kind of exists already in the form of taxis and transportation services like Uber and Lyft, but Ford wants to amp up the likes of Zipcar short-term rentals with autonomy. And once you get where you're going, they want to make it easier to park. They call it "Ford Smart Mobility".
To quote Fields, to Ford "mobility is about more than getting from 'point A' to 'point B', it's about far more than motion. It's about progress — human progress." And to that end, Ford's Smart Mobility project is engaging in 25 "mobility experiments" around the world focusing on connectivity, technologies, and socialization.
The big challenge to overcome is the increasing urbanization, as that makes owning a car harder. So Ford 's trying to make driving in the city easier, even if that means that you end up not buying a car. Fields said:
"Will we crack the code on the first try? No, probably not. And that's okay… we're determined to learn, determined to take risks."
So what do this experiments consist of? Lots and lots of data. Using the OpenXC platform, Ford's enlisted hundreds of their employees and customers to gather data on how they drive, with each car generating up to 25GB worth of data an hour. Ford was even able to track how traffic patterns changed during the 6-month shutdown of I-95 in Detroit. That same data can be used on an individual profile basis for insurance tracking, except unlike the current trackers you can get from your insurance company, Ford wants to help you build a profile that can travel between insurers and vehicles.
When it comes to getting a car, Ford's even experimenting with a world in which you don't have to own a car, moving beyond just selling and leasing vehicles to customers. They partnered with Georgia Tech to trial "remote repositioning" (i.e. remote driving) of golf carts around campus, using an array of cameras and sensors to give feedback to the remote driver. They're also working on a "dynamic social shuttle" service that has registered users riding with strangers in Ford's Transit vans, and even a car swap service for Ford employees in Dearborn with fleet vehicles to negotiate swapping terms for, say, a Mustang for the weekend or an F-150 for a renovation project. There's a car sharing program in Germany that incorporates local dealerships and works with the Flinkster service and a mobile car pick-up or drop-off app in Bangalore.
When it comes to the social stuff, Ford's not even really focusing on their own vehicles, or even vehicles at all. They're working with aid charities in Africa to better deliver healthcare in rural areas while also tracking those vehicles to build more accurate maps. A parking spotter service uses the distances sensors already built into many cars to track open parking spots as you drive past and share that data into a cloud, and a parking system for notoriously-difficult London that offers live traffic and parking data and even will alert you if you're trying to park in an illegal spot and give you a nearby legal spot instead. Ford's even using the OpenXC tracking system on bicycles in Palo Alto to collect data to build a map of safer routes and track locations.
Ford's going beyond just their own work, opening up a challenge to developers around the world to code the future of mobility. From a parking app with meter notifications and smart rates in San Francisco to real-time data for Lisbon taxi drivers to a service that aims to build a network of volunteers in congested and remote areas to help administer emergency services when the authorities aren't able to make it in time.
Of course, Ford wouldn't mind if you buy a car with their badge on the front. Fields was sure to highlight their Sync 3 connected car platform. Since it's introduction in 2007, Ford has sold more than 10 million vehicles with Sync installed, making it by far the largest connected car platform and building Sync AppLink into the largest ecosystem off automotive app partners.
Ford CTO Raj Nair said that automated driving is definitely something Ford is working on, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise. But he definitively said that it's something we can expect to see in the future. And Fields said that Ford's not worried about being the first out the gate with an autonomous carl, saying "our priority is making the first Ford autonomous vehicle accessible to the masses."
Making that car happen requires, of course, a lot of technologies that are still being developed, more sensors, and high definition maps with favorable environmental conditions. And when it comes to all of the data that Ford and other automators will be collecting, Fields was definitive that Ford will only use that data with explicit opt-in prompts and only for services that customers will see value in, saying that:
"We believe customers own their data and we are simply stewards of that data, and we commit to being trusted stewards of that data."
It was nice to see Ford being grounded at CES this year in comparison to some of the releases we've seen from other automakers in the past and this year. No low-speed self-driving cars on stage, no insane concept cars, just a vision for the future that was remarkable in how unremarkable it felt.