Ford has a vision for the future, and it's apparently one where an army of autonomous vans and drones deliver things to your doorstep. The company used VR to put visitors at Mobile World Congress in the shoes of a dinner party host missing key ingredients. Using a service called "Autolivery," the woman places an order from an app. Her package is loaded into an self-driving van, and a drone flies it up to a landing pad on the balcony on her 30th floor apartment.
Autolivery was developed by Shanghai-based Ford designers Euishik Bang, James Kuo and Chelsia Lau for the company's Last Mile Mobility Challenge. Automating the final stretch of the goods delivery process, from curb to door, is difficult, and many companies are working to solve the problem. Ford believes the pressure to develop mobility solutions in urban areas will grow in the near future due to the rise in local deliveries from online sales. Ideas like Autolivery can potentially reduce gridlock and air pollution, and allow people to move about more easily.
"It's all about making life in the city easier. The possibility of harnessing autonomous and electric vehicle technology with drones to quickly and easily send and deliver parcels could help to make life better for everyone," said Bang.
Autolivery is part of Ford's attempt to adapt to a future where fewer people buy cars. It recently invested $1 billion in a relatively unknown self-driving technology startup called Argo AI. Argo's software will be used to pilot fully autonomous delivery vehicles like Autolivery, as well as ride sharing and ride hailing vehicles. Ford plans to have its fleet on the road shuttling packages and people in 2021.
Ford bets $1 billion on an unknown self-driving AI company
Seemingly out of the blue, Ford announced today that it's investing $1 billion in Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based company building self-driving technology. Ford is effectively buying the previously unknown startup, which was founded by engineers from Google and Uber. Argo AI will operate as an independent subsidiary and will focus on developing a software platform for Ford's self-driving car, which the company istargeting for 2021. Notably, Ford is also planning to license the technology out to other companies.
While the extent of the deal is surprising, it makes sense for Ford, especially after GM acquired the self-driving car startup Cruise for over $1 billion last year. As we've seen with the steady progress from Google's Waymo, autonomous driving technology is evolving quickly. Car companies have to make some big moves now if they don't want to get left behind once the technology becomes essential in a few years.
Ford will combine the team building its virtual driver system, which serves as the "brains" of the self-driving cars, together with Argo AI. Both companies will benefit from the new arrangement: Ford doesn't have time to waste building its own AI platform from scratch, and Argo will need help getting its technology to consumers once it's ready.