Ford likely disappointed a few people Tuesday when it didn’t mention anything about reports that it plans to develop self-driving cars with Google. The automaker kicked off Tuesday’s press conferences at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show with a keynote address from CEO Mark Fields.
Fields seemingly talked about everything but a Google partnership.
Instead, the first big piece of news is that Ford is going to work with Amazon to connect its Echo Smart Home platform to its vehicles. The idea is that Echo would connect to Ford Sync. Drivers could then talk to “Alexa”, Amazon’s cloud-based virtual assistant, from inside their cars and issue voice commands to open the garage door, check a thermostat setting or turn on lighting. They could also use the program to start the car’s engine from inside the home.
The second news nugget is that the automaker plans to triple its autonomous Fusion fleet this year. The plan is to add 20 Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles to its current fleet which will bring the company’s self-driving fleet to about 30 vehicles. The vehicles will also be equipped with new third-generation sensors for better mapping capability.
“Using the most advanced technology and expanding our test fleet are clear signs of our commitment to make autonomous vehicles available for millions of people,” said Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer. “With more autonomous vehicles on the road, we are accelerating the development of software algorithms that serve to make our vehicles even smarter.”
The new fleet vehicles will use Velodyne’s advanced new Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto sensor. Ford says it’s critical to creating more accurate, real-time 3D maps. The new sensors have a longer range so they can handle a broader range of driving situations.
”Adding the latest generation of computers and sensors, including the smaller and more affordable Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto sensors helps bring Ford ever closer to having a fully autonomous vehicle ready for production,” says Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles.
Ford also recently announced its fully autonomous cars will take to the streets of California this year. The company already tests them on public roads in Nevada and Michigan.
Ford was the first automaker to test a fully autonomous vehicle at Mcity, a 32-acre, full-scale simulated real-world urban environment at the University of Michigan.
Finally, Ford says all of its 2017 models with Sync 3 will get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Drivers of 2016 models with Sync 3 can get an update later this year.