Ford puts self-driving car project in fast lane

America’s second largest automaker Ford is shifting focus from Detroit to Silicon Valley as it plays catch up to technology innovations in the fast-changing mobility space.

PALO ALTO, CA: America’s second largest automaker Ford is shifting focus from Detroit to Silicon Valley as it plays catch up to technology innovations in the fast-changing mobility space. The company said it’s moving the development of its autonomous vehicle technology or self-driving cars from the research labs in Palo Alto to an advanced engineering programme without giving a timeline by which it intends to sell these cars commercially.

“We now are moving from experimentation to implementation,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president & CEO, on the sidelines of the automaker’s annual Further with Ford trends conference here in Palo Alto. We have learned a lot in the past six months, and now are ready to put insights into action. Ford has appointed a director of autonomous vehicle development Randy Visintainer and created a full-fledged team to work on this programme.

Ford’s technology push comes at a time when big automobile companies are fighting it out with the likes of Tesla, Google and Uber, all of which are disrupting conventional mobility in cities across the world with concepts such as driverless cars, ride-sharing and electric vehicles.

Silicon Valley- a hotbed for technology innovation, is becoming a quintessential outpost for most automakers with Ford opening its Research & Development lab here earlier this year. Fields who took over the Dearborn, Michigan-based company, a year ago, is steering this effort and has said he wants Ford to be viewed as a part of the ecosystem of Silicon Valley. Ford’s 25,000-square-ft Palo Alto lab would include up to 125 researchers, scientists and engineers by the end of 2015.

The auto giant is also getting itself into the Uber and Airbnb-pioneered shared economy space with the launch of a peer-2-peer car sharing pilot programme for select customers in six US cities and in London. The carmaker is inviting 14,000 and 12,000 customers to sign up to rent their Ford Credit-financed vehicles to pre-screened drivers for short-term use, offsetting monthly vehicle ownership costs. General Motors and BMW also announced similar programmes to let car owners earn money by renting out their new vehicles to other drivers.This comes after having recently announced GoDrive, an on-demand, public car-sharing pilot. The service offers access to a fleet of cars for one-way journeys with easy parking throughout London.

Besides, tech-backed innovations for cars, Ford said it is looking for solutions for consumers in big cities where driving a vehicle from home to work is not feasible. It revealed a new electric bike and a prototype smartphone app that makes using the eBike easier for urban commutes.

Ford is also collaborating with startups in Silicon Valley in the 3D printing and wearable technology space.



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