Ford Motor Co. is pointing its headlights down a road that could see self-driving cars on the road by 2021 that don’t feature steering wheels or brake pedals, and a subscription service that would see customers summon them on-demand, according to Business Insider.
In an interview with Mark Fields, CEO of Ford, BI reports on more details of Ford’s new approach as a “mobility” company. That’s not mobility in the sense of portable electronic devices like smartphones and tablets, but in the sense of people needing transportation solutions. Ford’s digital transformation plans over the next five years seem to make room for disruption in the auto industry. In a world where self-driving cars are chauffeuring people around cities, it’d be more practical to simply call on an on-demand car service a la Uber to get around rather than own your own vehicle and worry about parking it.
Last summer, Ford said it plans to be producing self-driving cars at high volumes for a service like Uber. Whether Ford plans to partner with an existing “ride-sharing” service or launch its own isn’t clear yet. As described by BI, Ford’s autonomous vehicles would be confined to a specific area, with the maps for the area onboard the vehicle. To this end, Ford has made investments in technology startup companies and plans to expand its own internal driverless fleet to 90 vehicles this year.
Last March, Ford spun off a wholly-owned subsidiary called Ford Smart Mobility LLC so that it could compete like a startup. The company is exploring transportation options beyond car ownership and has participated in a series of experiments in London that direct drivers where they might be able to find parking, as well as a shuttle program in Dearborn, Mich. that allows on-demand ride requests. At the time, Fields described the mobile transportation market as a significant growth opportunity.
It’s possible that Waterloo, Ont.-based BlackBerry will play a role in Ford’s path to commercially viable fleet of self-driving cars. In October, the companies announced a deal that would see BlackBerry’s QNX software embedded in future Ford vehicles. The deal was original because software like QNX would normally be embedded in a Tier 1 partner to automotive manufacturers, which design infotainment systems to be integrated into the cars. While Ford hasn’t commented much on the partnership with BlackBerry, working with them directly on how QNX is developed may signal it is interested in exploring other ways the software could be integrated into its cars. Further, QNX Neutrino is an OS that’s certified for self-driving systems to be built upon.
That no brake pedal is included in Ford’s design for self-driving cars could be taken symbolically. The company is speeding down the road of digital transformation and there’s no slowing down, Fields is showing the industry. In just five years, the car in your driveway might be replaced by another app on your phone.