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Ford wants to be the self-driving OS for the future of transportation

Ford wants to be the self-driving OS for the future of transportation


The auto giant is teaming up with Lyft, Domino’s, and Postmates to deploy autonomous vehicles

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Photo: Ford

Ford unveiled its new self-driving “platform” on which its partners like Lyft, Domino’s Pizza, and Postmates — and even small- and medium-sized businesses — can tap into and reap the benefits of the auto giant’s fleet of autonomous vehicles. It’s an aggressive approach to the future of transportation, especially when taken with Ford’s other announcements today regarding its work with Qualcomm and its creation of something it calls the “Transportation Mobility Cloud.” In the simplest terms, Ford is tired of being just a car company; now it wants to be seen as an operating system for the future of mobility.

an operating system for the future of mobility

Ford’s new CEO Jim Hackett is taking the stage at CES in Las Vegas today to outline the company’s approach to recent trends in the transportation sector, like autonomous vehicles, ride-hailing, on-demand deliveries, and smart cities. It all can be filed under an initiative Ford introduced last year called the “City of Tomorrow,” a glossy, utopian vision of urban mobility that largely ignores the shabby condition of most of our major cities.

Nonetheless, the company is gung ho on the idea of self-driving cars that can “talk” to everything, from traffic lights to the smartphones in the pockets of pedestrians and bicyclists to other vehicles on the road. Ford announced today that it’s partnering with Qualcomm to install “vehicle-to-everything” (V2X) cellular technology in all of its cars. By 2019, Ford says all of its new cars will hit the road with Qualcomm’s connected car technology installed.

Much like the other car companies who descended on CES this year, Ford is less interested in demonstrating its autonomous capabilities, and more interested in talking about how these cars are going to be used to make money. In that vein, the company is highlighting its preexisting partnerships with Lyft and Domino’s, as well as announcing a new partner, on-demand delivery startup Postmates.

“who can benefit by accessing our fleet of self-driving vehicles”

“[O]ur new platform will make it easy to connect to and work with our partners, who can benefit by accessing our fleet of self-driving vehicles to serve their customers,” Jim Farley, Ford’s executive vice president and president for global markets, writes. “Lyft, for example, is already testing the platform, which includes specific communications protocols that will be used to request and dispatch autonomous vehicles from our fleet for times and locations with surging customer demand, or to areas that are often underserved.”

With Postmates, Ford says it will begin deploying its self-driving cars for delivery company customers in the months to come. “In the future, when a consumer uses Postmates to place a purchase — whether for groceries, takeout or other goods — a self-driving vehicle could be what delivers her order,” says Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification. “As part of our testing trials, we’ll study both what the merchant experience needs to be at the point of delivery and what the customer experience needs to be at that same point.”

It’s a bit nebulous, relying as much as it does on buzzwords like “platform” and “communications protocols,” but it’s not difficult to see where Ford is going with this. Every automaker working on self-driving cars today is looking for a fresh angle. GM is dispatching self-driving taxis in big cities. Toyota has zeroed in on modular delivery and retail experiences. Ford is hoping that businesses will be attracted to its very broad, loosely defined autonomous platform as a way to hop aboard the self-driving bandwagon.