We’re honored to have been invited to cover this event again, at Ford’s expense, as it’s delightful to peek behind the curtain. The most exciting news from Ford is that they’re taking IDEO’s advice to prototype early and often. They’re launching a variety of projects (not vehicles) all aimed at making it easier for people to get from point A to B.
We also got to take some cars for a spin on their test track, including a thrilling ride in a Focus RS with none other than The Stig. After that I wanted to try driving the RS myself again, to see if I could ride more like him. Instead I went to check out the nifty Transit vans that Winnebago had tricked out and imagined how long I could survive in one kitted with On The Go H2O.
Ford On Autonomous Cars
First they came for the assembly line jobs… and now the people driving vehicles built by robots are to be replaced with robots as well. At this year’s Further with Ford conference the big idea was replacing car share & taxi drivers with robots (or AI). Regardless of the fact that only 15% of Americans have actually used a car-share service, Ford is quite bullish on car-share in general. After all, the Crown Vic was the default taxicab for decades. That is, until cab companies realized how much money they could save with hybrids. Here, Bill Ford talks about how Ford is preparing for the future:
Call them “autonomous vehicles”, but even Bill Ford himself said these cars won’t be ready for prime time till 2021. However, he does think they’ll have as big an impact as the invention of the assembly line did! At 9:50 in the video Ford emphasized the ethical issue. For the company programming the car this is also the liability issue. If a human driver chooses to kill a stranger in order to save the lives of their beloved passengers, it’s illegal. But it’s their choice, and their responsibility. If an automaker programs a car to make a certain choice, the family of the victim of that choice could sue the automaker. This liability quandary is probably the single biggest road bump on the way to driverless cars. Will we wait until AI is smart enough to drive for us? And then how long after until AI is making bigger decisions for us? And how does one punish an AI that commits murder?
I used Lyft to get into and out of central Detroit for some time in the city after the conference. I told both of my Lyft drivers what Bill Ford had in mind for their jobs. Both of them happened to be driving Fords, too. I wish I’d recorded the first driver’s response. He erupted into a very passionate diatribe about how robots could never drive cars. It was wonderful to listen to. My next driver, pictured, has driven trucks back and forth across this country. He switched to Lyft driving to spend more time with his family. He also agrees that it’s no job for a machine. He was quick to point out he’s a big fan of technology, and really enjoys the tech in his 2015 Fusion as much as he enjoys the turbo and all-wheel drive. He even showed me it had reverse guidance just like the reverse guidance I’d seen on the trucks.
If better jobs were more plentiful, there wouldn’t be so many people happy to drive you to the airport. If we had a basic income to replace all those lost jobs, people wouldn’t need to drive strangers around to be able to make ends meet.
In happier news, Ford is still blazing forth as a mobility provider, same as they were when I last attended this conference in 2013. Ford also now has an office in Silicon Valley to help them improve their position as a technology company. They are working with IDEO to study how they can help cities move. Using San Francisco and NYC as their pilot cities, they’re testing out some new ideas to help you stitch together the best possible route, even if it’s multimodal, as outlined in this graphic, and detailed here.
As more people choose to live in cities, where cars are impractical, and young people in developed countries show less interest in car ownership, automakers have to find ways to remain relevant, and to keep their shareholders happy. Ford is open to whatever that may be. Let’s hope they have a booth at Interbike next week…