Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen Tout Plans to Add Connectivity and Autonomy to the Family Car

Connected cars have become an extension of the smart home, but OEMs are now focused on a far bigger tech challenge: enabling autonomous driving.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

"Beginning this year, you'll see us change from an automotive company into a mobility company," Fields remarked. Yet, rather than unveil any major new initiatives focused on new approaches to transportation, Fields and Ken Washington, Ford's VP of research and advanced engineering, provided a short update on Ford's Smart Mobility program, which it rolled out at last year's CES conference.

The program is designed to test more than two dozen schemes aimed at everything from car-sharing to semi-autonomous driving to parking assistance. IOT Journal reported on the program last year.

Volkswagen's BUDDe concept microbus
"Some projects are finished, some have morphed [in new directions] and some continue," Washington explained. "We're now focusing and homing in on two areas: flexible use and ownership of vehicles, and multi-modal urban mobility solutions."

Washington cited two specific efforts: Ford's GoDrive, a car-sharing experiment using a fleet of Ford-owned vehicles and designated parking spaces that the company launched with 2,000 drivers in London last spring, and Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing, a pilot project launched this summer in six U.S. cities and London. The Peer-2-Peer program allows Ford owners to rent out their personal vehicles to other drivers, who pay a per-minute usage fee.

As one might expect, Washington said, Millennial drivers are showing the most interest in both car-sharing programs. Overall, the chief concerns among Peer-2-Peer program participants are damage to their cars, the cleanliness of their vehicles and the worries that renters may fail to return them on time.

Toyota Gives a Glimpse Into Autonomous Vehicle Research Efforts
Last year at CES, Toyota announced that it was opening its portfolio of more than 5,600 patents related to its development of a car that uses hydrogen as fuel, in order to stoke the propulsion system's development. This year did not see the carmaker announce a hydrogen fuel car. Instead, the company focused on the work it is doing to develop autonomous vehicles.

In November of last year, Toyota announced that it has launched a new R&D-focused company, the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), into which it will invest $1 billion over five years to develop the artificial intelligence and machine-learning science needed to advance autonomous vehicles. TRI is opening twin laboratories near Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and is working closely with academics at both institutions.

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