Why We’re Working with Autonomic to Create a Platform That Can Power Future Cities

By Rich Strader, Ford Vice President, Mobility Product Solutions, and Sunny Madra, Autonomic CEO

As we adapt our cities for the next 100 years, it’s important and thrilling to remind ourselves that this is a rare moment in technology where an innovation can be designed to build community.

If we play our cards right, we can help allow for millions of people to move into cities and keep streets less congested, not more. We can connect people living in transit deserts to the city center for better jobs. We can manage our curbs better, remove parked and idling cars, and instead plant more trees and share fresh air with more in our community.

Building an ecosystem such as this requires the large-scale connection of bits of distinct data that flow from a variety of sources. And those sources — public transportation services, self-driving cars, cyclists and even infrastructure — will need to speak the same language and communicate with each other if we’re to realize the true potential of this type of ecosystem.

The first step along that path is to establish a platform that enables that kind of communication. That’s why Ford is working with Autonomic, a Silicon Valley-based company made up of a team of passionate technologists with broad experience in cloud and distributed systems, as well as mobile and machine learning, to build an open cloud-based platform — the Transportation Mobility Cloud. This platform can manage information flow and basic transactions between a variety of components in the transportation ecosystem — service providers, personal vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, mass transit systems and city infrastructure, including traffic lights and parking locations.

With this platform, cities will be able to facilitate communication between various transportation methods and services operating within them, including individual vehicle data. The Transportation Mobility Cloud can take in and process that data in real-time, and provide numerous services including vehicle connectivity, third-party connectivity, location-based services, route mapping, alerts, identity management, payment processing, data and analytical services, and much more. This enables developers to offer new apps and services that make getting around easier and more efficient.

Importantly, the Transportation Mobility Cloud provides a common way to communicate that already has the base functionality built out, and it manages the performance, security and other core elements in a standardized way. Just as with any open platform, people can build on top of it — focusing on how to add value to the consumer experience — instead of having to re-create those foundational elements from scratch.

Think of it as similar to a box of Legos with configurable pieces that we can quickly rebuild to create different assets, products and services, much more quickly. Users get access to a new mobility experience, app developers can easily leverage connected vehicle capabilities such as GPS and sensors, partners can access users and the platform’s capabilities, and connected vehicles can pull the service together. As every city has its own requirements, transportation systems, traditions and needs, this box of assets enables flexibility for each one.

As an example of the platform’s capability, cities could use real-time location updates from vehicles to control traffic flow, dynamically rerouting cars to reduce congestion, improve commuting times or account for construction projects, sporting events and emergencies. A city can ensure no empty self-driving vehicles are driving on the most important arteries used by people during their rush hour commute home. This platform can even help cities define safer pick-up and drop-off zones for ride-hailing services.

Additionally, cities could use this Transportation Mobility Cloud to combat pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, allowing them to define geofenced regions and districts where hybrid electric vehicles are required to operate in full electric mode. Multi-modal transportation can be made significantly easier, with cities using the platform to provide residents access to route planning services that can help them calculate — in advance or dynamically in real-time — the best route plan for a given journey.

This system is not exclusive to Ford or to personally owned vehicles — we’re building the Transportation Mobility Cloud for everyone, for the entire transportation operating system, including other automakers. We’re inviting others to join, reaching out to other automakers, suppliers and large-scale fleet operators to offer them an opportunity to participate in and shape this shared platform.

There have been a lot of interesting innovations, both across and beyond the auto industry, but until now key players have been focused on optimizing for their own agendas, their own transportation modes or their own tools. We think cities and mobility in general will achieve full potential when there is a universal mobility language and platform through which everything can interact and optimize for the people who live in our cities.

Most importantly, we’re designing this with the large scale of global cities in mind — and integration at scale is a Ford strength. This is the first at-scale transportation solution that provides the ability to connect individual vehicles, third-party services, mobile applications and transit systems, while also enabling sharing across the ecosystem. It creates equal opportunity for automakers, cities, suppliers and developers to add value. With Ford’s commitment to 100 percent connectivity, we aim to have the most vehicles connected to any platform by the end of 2019.

All of this work is being done for a simple reason: To improve people’s lives and create better experiences. Moving around something as dynamic as a bustling city shouldn’t be an act of frustration; it should be affordable, accessible and enjoyable. With the Transportation Mobility Cloud, we can do all this and more — including giving back time people would’ve spent on the road so they can be with their loved ones, plus a cleaner space to enjoy the experience.

We’re entering an era of connected vehicles at scale, working toward a future where self-driving cars will be ubiquitous, and where we have the potential to transform cities to meet the needs of all those living in them. We’re moving into this new era working not just to optimize for Ford tools or Ford services — we’re inviting anyone and everyone to communicate between vehicles, people and other elements of a city so that we can all build a future where mobility can achieve its full potential.