Car manufacturing giant Ford has formed a dedicated team to extend its capabilities and research across robotics and artificial intelligence.
In a blog post published on Thursday, the company’s new chief technology officer Ken Washington claims that the new Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Research team, working as part of Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, will help the company to lead new markets.
Washington writes that the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics on the way we get around is “potentially enormous”.
The new team is to work closely with Argo AI, a start-up in which Ford is investing $1 billion over the next five years – a move it announced in February this year. The start-up will support Ford on projects across drone technology, personal mobility platforms, automation and aerial robotics.
This partnership effectively frees up responsibilities for Ford. Argo AI up already has first-hand experience of self-driving vehicles and has its own test fleet.
AI and robotics are crucial in the development of autonomous vehicles. Washington said the firm is planning to operate two fleets of self-driving vehicles on its own road.
One of the fleets will be manned by Ford’s advanced research team, while Argo will be in charge of the other. The focus will be on the development and testing of a virtual driver system.
The company is aiming to bring this system into production by 2021, when it intends to deploy its ride-hailing fleet. It’s an ambitious goal, but that’s why Ford has formed this new team.
Of course, Ford isn’t the only automaker interested in AI and robotics research. Honda already runs a solid robotics program, and Toyota Research Institute has also demonstrated considerable expertise in this area.
An imperative move
Writing about the announcement, Washington explained: “I can tell you there’s so much going on in the world of advanced engineering.
“It’s imperative that we maintain a crystal-clear focus on the most important elements to help us achieve our vision of changing the way the world moves.
“This team will be dedicated to a greater focus on evaluating new sensor technologies, machine learning methods, technical requirements for entry into global markets, and development of personal mobility devices, drones and other aerial robotics to enhance first- and last-mile travel.”
Ian Hughes, an IoT analyst at 451 Research, told Internet of Business that many automotive companies are investing in these technologies to make predictable environments possible.
“Artificial Intelligence and high-order compute function is essential for autonomous vehicle and car companies are not simply replacing a repetitive task with automation in a predictable environment,” he said.
“A moving vehicle has to cope with the unusual, with edge cases and aberrations. Hence a degree of reasoning, or intelligence, is required to deal with ever-changing road conditions due to other vehicles, weather, wildlife or pedestrians.
“Car manufacturers are having to adjust their product set from a collection of human-centered comfort and safety sense/respond devices to ones that replace our brains and experience all together, meaning AI is going to become as important as the engine or motor is in a vehicle today.”