Ford ro­bot­ics team to boost in­no­va­tion

Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence will be key, says chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY IAN THIBODEAU The Detroit News ithi­bodeau@de­troit­news.com Twit­ter: @Ian_Thi­bodeau

Ford Mo­tor Co. plans to cre­ate a Ro­bot­ics and Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence Re­search team aimed at boost­ing tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment for the au­tomaker as au­ton­omy and mo­bil­ity be­come more im­por­tant parts of the com­pany.

Ken Washington, Ford vice pres­i­dent of re­search and ad­vanced en­gi­neer­ing and chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer, wrote in a Thurs­day blog post that “the im­pact of ro­bot­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence on the way we get around — even in just the next five to 10 years — is po­ten­tially enor­mous,” and the new team will help Ford fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing el­e­ments to help the com­pany meet its goal to change how peo­ple move.

The team brings parts of Ford’s re­search wing onto one team to eval­u­ate ve­hi­cle sen­sor tech­nol­ogy, ma­chine learn­ing meth­ods and the de­vel­op­ment of per­sonal mo­bil­ity de­vices, drones and “other ae­rial ro­bot­ics to en­hance first-and-last mile travel,” ac­cord­ing to Washington’s blog.

The team will be based in Dear­born, with an out­post next to the Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s MCity re­search cen­ter for au­ton­o­mous and con­nected ve­hi­cles, Ford said Thurs­day. The com­pany wouldn’t say how many peo­ple will be part of the Ro­bot­ics and Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence Re­search group.

The move will push for­ward projects al­ready un­der­way in au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle de­vel­op­ment, among other things.

Ford plans to bring its first­gen­er­a­tion fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle to mar­ket by 2021. That car won’t have a steer­ing wheel or ped­als, and will most likely be de­ployed in a fleet con­tained to cer­tain “geo-fenced” ar­eas of a city or cam­pus.

The new team will have an em­pha­sis on ad­vanc­ing au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy while an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence com­pany, Argo AI, de­vel­ops the brains of the Ford self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles. Washington said ear­lier this month that Argo al­ready has all of the in­for­ma­tion and data it needs from Ford to make the first-gen­er­a­tion car work.

The new ro­bot­ics team will col­lab­o­rate with Argo “so they can some­day put this promis­ing emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy to work in fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles,” Washington wrote.

That will lead to Ford hav­ing two sep­a­rate fleets of self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles test­ing on the road, ac­cord­ing to the blog. One will be led by the new Ford team, and the other will be run by Argo as it de­vel­ops that vir­tual driver sys­tem.

Out­side au­ton­o­mous de­vel­op­ment, the ro­bot­ics and AI team will look at ways to im­ple­ment ro­bot­ics in “er­gonom­i­cally dif­fi­cult tasks,” con­tinue re­la­tion­ship-build­ing with startup com­pa­nies, and lead projects with Univer­sity of Michi­gan, Stan­ford Univer­sity, M.I.T., Vir­ginia Tech, Pur­due Univer­sity, Texas A&M, the Ge­or­gia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and other uni­ver­si­ties.

“This is the next step in Ford’s au­toma­tion story,” Washington wrote. “This de­ci­sion is driv­ing en­ergy with ev­ery­one on our team, as it clearly in­di­cates the di­rec­tion of Ford Mo­tor Com­pany. Be­cause we un­der­stand the science of ro­bot­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, we can es­tab­lish a team tasked with not just watch­ing the fu­ture, but help­ing to cre­ate it.”

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