Optimizing Our Self-Driving Vehicle to Better Serve You

By Jim Farley, Executive Vice President and President, Global Markets, Ford Motor Company

When I think about self-driving technology and what it can enable, I can dream up amazing visions of the future. It’s a fun exercise and one we must constantly do to make sure that we’re creating the future versus having it decided without us. To get to the self-driving future we can all imagine, we need to build a business today that has a foundation for long-term success.

Our team has been researching self-driving technology for more than a decade, and when it came time to build out the business surrounding it, we put the customer at the center of our thinking. From the beginning, this drove the development of our production vehicle and technology.

What this means is that we’re designing an all-new vehicle optimized for self-driving technology and the customers it will serve. We feel this optimization across the vehicle, technology and customer experience will differentiate our business as we begin to serve leading companies, such as Lyft, in the movement of people and goods.

We’re spending an extensive amount of time conducting research into how people are using new services such as ride-hailing today — and we’re looking at how they can evolve with the introduction of autonomous vehicles. For instance, our work with Domino’s Pizza helped us better understand the dynamics of food delivery, so we plan to continue doing similar customer research.

Today, however, I’m pleased to share with you some insight into how we’re optimizing our self-driving vehicle design to meet the needs of our partners so it enhances and grows their business operations — and delivers the best experience for the people they serve.

Our self-driving vehicle is designed around four core aspects:

Commercial Grade: Building on one of the strengths of our company, we’re going to leverage our experience in building vehicles that serve taxi, police and other heavy-duty service fleets. From today’s Transit van and Super Duty pickup to the new Police Interceptor utility and F-150 Police Responder truck — and even looking back to the trusty Crown Victoria — we know how to build vehicles that thrive in heavy-duty, high-mileage commercial operations. What this means is that our self-driving vehicle will have upgraded components such as brakes, wheels and body structures that can withstand more extreme work cycles, and that it will undergo more rigid durability testing before it goes on the road.

Our commercial fleets are known for their lower cost of ownership and durability. We’re applying this knowledge and experience to our self-driving vehicle so it will be ready to meet the needs of both ride-hailing and delivery businesses operating in tough urban environments. Customers will only benefit if our vehicles are on the road, versus in the shop, so this is a critical component for a successful business.

Hybrid-Electric: Another strength we have is in developing hybrid vehicles, including engineering them for use in commercial operations such as taxi fleets and in police service with the new Police Responder Hybrid sedan, which is the first hybrid to be pursuit-rated! Applying hybrid-electric technology to our self-driving vehicles delivers several benefits to our service partner companies, including maximum mileage to keep the vehicle on the road. Plus, hybrids help provide the significant amount of electrical power required for self-driving sensors and computing systems without having a significant impact on the mileage.

Importantly, our hybrids are workhorses — the high voltage batteries used in them are 99.6 percent active after their warranties have ended since our first hybrid launched in 2004 — meaning businesses and customers can count on them to go the extra mile.

Designed for Purpose: We’ve conducted extensive customer research, and will continue to do so, to understand our ride-hailing and delivery partners’ needs, so we’re able to design both interior and exterior features that will improve their business operations and the customer experience. For instance, in our research with the team at Domino’s, we found that customers enjoyed the voice instructions that played over speakers mounted on the outside of the vehicle to explain how to get their pizza out of the self-driving vehicle upon arrival at their house. In fact, many customers talked back to the car, saying, “Bye,” upon its departure.

We also understand and respect that self-driving cars must integrate into the community in which they are operating, so we’re taking steps to help ensure that other road users, such as pedestrians and bicyclists, can understand the vehicle’s driving intentions through an exterior light signal we’re developing and testing with Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Integrated for Safety: The teams that are engineering, testing and ultimately building our self-driving vehicles are working as one to ensure we’re producing an integrated product that is developed to be safe, reliable and dependable from the outset. Our development partner, Argo AI, is led by some of the most experienced self-driving experts in the business that have built and commercialized robotic products before. Now 250 people strong, the Argo team is building a scalable software architecture with production-quality code from the start. Their talents combined with our product development team for systems integration and our manufacturing experts give us all the capability to build high-quality self-driving vehicles.

While a self-driving vehicle is very different from cars and trucks on the road today, the method for engineering and manufacturing them should not be. We have well-defined processes for product testing and quality assurance, which is critically important as we scale vehicle production over time.

Next year will be an important time for us as we begin to test both our self-driving technology and business model in a variety of pilot programs in the first city in which we plan to operate an autonomous vehicle business. I can’t wait to share more with you about our plans, and promise to do so throughout this journey we’re on to create the future.