Ford Motor Company is announcing the creation of a new “Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Research” team, as a part of Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. Ford CTO Ken Washington wrote in a blog post that the new team will 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.”
Ken Washington says that Ford is taking this step because the company’s partnership with Argo AI to develop the “virtual driver” software for its self-driving cars, Ford “can put greater emphasis on other rapidly developing advancements in this space that will feed work in autonomous vehicle technology.” The Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Research team will continue to collaborate with Argo AI so that these new technologies can eventually make their way to its self-driving cars.
One result of this change will likely be that Ford effectively has two fleets of autonomous test vehicles on the road: one led by Argo AI to develop the virtual driver system, and one led by Ford, using the company’s own virtual driver software to test new hardware and the like.
But the interests of Ford’s new Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Research team go beyond self-driving cars and mobility solutions; according to Washington, the team will “evaluate further advancements in collaborative robots to assist in ergonomically difficult tasks,” like those encountered in manufacturing and logistics. The team will also look at using AI to “drive smarter decision making and more personalized experiences” in sales, marketing, and analytics.
Ford has set a target to put its first fully-autonomous vehicle on the road in ride-share and ride-hail fleets in 2021.