Ford may delay Level 5 autonomy | Rare Techy
Automotive strategists once talked about the development of fully electric vehicles (EVs) and fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) because they are firmly connected to each other. But Jim Farley has decided that Ford can continue to transform itself into an electric vehicle company without also trying to ensure that no human has to drive its new vehicles.
“Things have changed,” Farley said in Ford’s statement accompanying the company’s third-quarter write-down of $2.7 billion after the depth of its investment in Argo AI. “Cost-effective, fully autonomous vehicles are a long way off at scale, and we don’t necessarily have to create the technology ourselves.”
That’s the exact opposite of the vision that Farley’s predecessor Mark Fields laid out in 2016, when the then-CEO said, “Ford will be producing fully autonomous vehicles in five years.” Fields was dropped and was succeeded by Jim Hackett, who held similar visions as a Ford executive. Now, Ford executives admit that fully autonomous vehicles are — well, at least five years away.
Both Ford and Argo’s other 40% partner, Volkswagen, said they will take part of Argo’s workforce and continue to do part of Argo’s work, with Ford emphasizing improvements to its Level 2 and Level 3 automated driving features.
But by delaying Ford’s investment in fully autonomous driving, or Level 5, Farley is, in a sense, simply saying that the emperor has no clothes. It’s hard to overstate the frenzy with which proponents of autonomous driving advanced their vision, and in just a few short years, the auto industry and Silicon Valley poured as much as $100 billion into it, according to Bloomberg. and other estimates run as high as $160 billion.
And the auto industry, including General Motors, is pushing ahead with driverless driving, as are digital giants like Apple and dozens of startups. Commercial applications such as autonomous trucks are well ahead of consumer vehicles.
Some feel that Ford is missing the point. “If autonomy becomes a reality, and it will, the absence of Argo will not matter,” said Chris Thomas, co-founder and partner at Detroit-based venture capital firm Assembly Ventures and co-founder of Ford Motor CEO Bill Ford. — from the investment company Fontinalis Partners, told me. “We have autonomous and self-driving systems that are widely used in logistics and personal mobility use cases that unlock enormous value for society and create enormous value for everyone who is actually in the arena.”
But putting driverless vehicles on the side could benefit Ford at a time when the economic landscape has become difficult. “These are not utility vehicles and they won’t be for a very long time,” Doug Field, director of product and technology development for Ford’s Model e division, said in a recent podcast. “It takes a lot of money to break it.” Level 2 and Level 3 developments and connected data still give the industry a lot of what we can do for safety to make people safer,” added Field, a former Tesla and Apple executive who joined Ford last year and is the company’s CEO. the company’s digital technologies in the vehicles of the future.
And some of the goals of fully autonomous vehicles can be achieved in other ways, such as transporting people who need help getting around. “Mobility for the elderly, the young, and the disabled could be achieved with a service like Uber, if those services weren’t too greedy to pay their drivers their fair share,” a chief strategy officer at one automaker told me.
Ford’s abandonment of the Argo also proves to be a major blow to technological determinism. It’s no coincidence that the initial enthusiasm for the “AV revolution” came from young scientists and engineers who were invited to participate in successive Defense Research Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) competitions that began about 20 years ago, as Rita McGrath of the consulting firm Valize has pointed out. .
One of DARPA’s goals was to create “a critical mass of talent focused on the challenge of autonomy that it was interested in for military and defense purposes,” he noted. That “critical mass” quickly drew tech companies into the fray, and when automakers saw the digital titans encroaching on their turf, they understandably jumped in as well.
But self-driving at scale remains a vision. “True autonomous driving is a long way into the future because we don’t yet have technology that can handle our brains,” said the automaker’s chief strategy officer.
Beyond the technological hurdles, there are simply too few clear advantages, too many potential drawbacks, and too many major obstacles—costs, liabilities, and so on—to such a future. Think of it as a parallel track to humanity’s other intriguing but not exactly urgent goal: landing humans on Mars.
Perhaps part of the fading dream of a highly centralized transportation scheme of millions of driverless pockets traversing urban landscapes under the control of AI-powered computers was discredited when Americans saw what came of centralized control of the economy during the pandemic. government decision makers, bureaucratic elites and “experts” in determining the public good.
Indeed, one of the biggest criticisms of autonomous driving has come from Americans who want to drive their own vehicles because it gives them freedom, and some who simply enjoy driving. These people can own the day. “It’s hard for people to give up control of their cars,” Field said. “Everything they’ve been taught says don’t do it.”