Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields didn’t waste any time in his CES 2016 keynote. “I predict that 2016 is going to be a revolutionary year for the auto industry and transportation,” Fields said in the opening minutes of his statement. “It will be the year we are going to see major breakthroughs that change the way the world moves. At Ford, we intend the lead the way.”
By the time Fields took the stage, Ford had already announced a major expansion of its Sync Applink suite, with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 4G LTE service entering the mix. Yet that was only the beginning of what you might call an onslaught of tech and mobility initiatives from the Dearborn automaker. Prior to and during the opening day at CES, Ford made announcements that have real ramifications for autonomous vehicle development as well as collaborations with tech giants on “smart home” systems, connected car systems, and drone-to-truck communication.
In an interest of breaking down a dizzying array of developments from Las Vegas, we present five takeaways from the Ford CES showcase.
1. Ford is tripling down on autonomous driving
Though there was no question about Ford’s push in autonomous vehicles, the automaker announced it would increase its self-driving fleet from 10 to 30 cars in 2016, making it the leading car maker in this area. At a 32-acre research facility set up at the University of Michigan and on roads in California, Michigan, and Arizona, three times the current amount of autonomous Fusion Hybrids will be put through their paces. We can expect to see deployment of at least some of these features — if not fully self-driving cars — by the end of the decade.
2. Ford cars are only part of its ambitions
Ford has been increasingly positioning itself as a mobility company as well as an automaker, and at CES we saw the automaker’s web extending into the home in an effort to link Amazon Echo and Wink with its smart-car fleet. The technology could allow drivers to start their cars, check fuel tank or battery status, lock the car, and get information on the car’s location if parked on the street when using Alexa. With Wink and Echo, drivers could also control home functions (e.g., turning on porch lights or unlocking the front door) from the car.
3. Expect widespread collaboration with tech companies
Rumors of Ford partnering with Google were circulating before CES, but there was no mention of such an alliance at CES. However, Ford announced exploring avenues with AT&T and DJI in addition to the aforementioned Apple, Android, Wink, and Amazon. There appears to be no limit to the automaker’s collaborations with tech companies large and small, and we expect this trend to become more pronounced. When Mark Fields said Ford would “keep one foot in the present, one foot in the future,” you have to expect specialists in different areas giving the Blue Oval an opportunity.
4. Automakers are already making use of Ford patents
Ford open-sourced a large number of its patents in recent years, and we are already seeing automakers make use of the access. Toyota has adopted the company’s SmartDeviceLink software that powers Ford SYNC AppLink. The list of car companies following soon may mushroom: Honda, Peugeot, Mazda, and Subaru are all exploring the possibility of taking on the software. Establishing an industry standard would make it easier for consumers and the developers getting app packages into automobiles.
5. Drones and F-150s may begin working together
No CES is complete without drone deployment, and Ford showed how drones and America’s favorite truck can get on the job together. With drones from DJI and the F-150 serving as a base for drone exploration, the two companies imagine providing better emergency response when roads become impassable. At CES, DJI and Ford announced a developer challenge to create drone-to-vehicle communication with Ford Sync AppLink or OpenXC. Using such a system, drones may be deployable where no vehicle can travel.