Ford’s recent executive shuffle was bound to lead to reorganization throughout the company, but the addition of a new Robotics and AI Research team operating under Ford’s Research and Advanced Engineering department seems like it was inevitable either way, given the industry’s trajectory.
Ford’s VP of Research and Engineering and CTO Dr. Ken Washington revealed the new research group via a Medium post, in which he discusses the huge potential impact of AI and robotics over the next decade. The team will work with Argo AI, the startup that Ford took a majority stake in earlier this year via a large investment, as well as on other partnership and acquisition/investment opportunities. It’ll help with work on drones, personal mobility platforms (last-mile, scooter-style transport), automation and “aerial robotics.”
Washington also discussed how in the future we’ll see “at least two” separate fleets of self-driving vehicles on the road operated by Ford: one led by Ford’s own team pursuing advanced research and another led by Argo AI focused on development and testing of the virtual driver system Ford intends to bring to production in time for its 2021 deployment of a ride-hailing fleet.
Focusing on AI and robotics research is not novel to Ford among automakers; Honda has long had a program in place to develop its robotics capability, and has frequently demonstrated its Asimo humanoid robot. Toyota also runs the Toyota Research Institute, an entire subsidiary devoted to long-term research and development of robotics and AI, through its own work and partnerships with leading academic institutions.