Ford expands mobility work to Austin and Ann Arbor

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The automaker is testing autonomous cars in Austin, Miami, and Washington DC and working with leaders in five cities to test its data analysis platform.

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All the big automakers are looking to the future, which means doing more than selling cars. In an analysis of disruptive trends transforming the auto industry, McKinsey & Company predicts that within the next 10 years recurring revenue from new services, including data and mobility services, will grow by 30% to add $1.5 trillion in revenue by 2030. McKinsey predicts that overall global car sales will continue to grow, but at a slower annual rate.

Ford is working on several fronts to figure out which combination of products and services is the right one. The carmaker is now testing autonomous vehicles in Austin, as well as Miami and Washington DC. In Ann Arbor, MI, the company is testing an analytics platform that forecasts the impact of new mobility services before implementation.

Combining disparate data sets

To keep up with mobility data companies, Ford has built the City Insights Platform. This software will allow city planners to visualize the entire mobility ecosystem and test solutions before implementing them in the real world. The software incorporates parking, transit, traffic, safety, and census data into the models. The platform simulates the impact of new transit modes on revenue, ridership, and access to transportation.  

Brett Wheatley, vice president of mobility marketing and growth at Ford, said in a statement that the goal is to weave together different transit operations to create a better system overall.

Ford is testing its insights platform in Ann Arbor, Austin, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. In a blog post, Wheatley explains how Ford worked with the city of Ann Arbor to analyze the current supply of parking spots.

The city’s downtown is growing at about 11% per year, and city planners wanted to know if there was enough parking to accommodate that growth. The analysis included a digital model concept of Ann Arbor built across six LCD screens complete with miniature, 3D-printed buildings.

SEE: Smart cities: A business leader’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Ford’s City Insights Platform created a comprehensive view of all city parking, including city- and university-owned parking structures and street-side parking. The team also built visualizations of traffic flow to see how drivers were using parking spots over a 24-hour period.

The team decided that the answer was not more parking spaces but better ways to inform drivers of open spots and make access to parking easier. That is no small challenge, but it could be cheaper than the construction costs of creating more parking spots.

The team is also looking at how pedestrians, delivery truck drivers, and garbage truck drivers use alleys. Ann Arbor has equipped some alleyways with sensors to track when people and vehicles enter the alleys; this data will be used to improve safety and to integrate the alleys into the city’s transportation network.

Using self-driving cars for mobility as a service

Understanding how traffic moves through a city will give Ford an edge in deploying its self-driving vehicles. Ford just added Austin to its list of test markets, which includes Miami and Washington DC.

Ford’s vision is to build self-driving commercial service for moving people and goods–this includes ride-hailing services. Ride hailing and ride-sharing are not the same thing; ride hailing is basically a taxi, while ride-sharing is a carpool.

With this latest expansion, the automaker will be working with local businesses to study mobility needs as well as fleet operations. Ford will lead customer and business experience testing, while Argo AI leads the technology work.

Argo AI is a platform company working with automakers to deliver a fully integrated self-driving system to provide ride sharing and goods delivery services. Argo will be mapping the roads in Austin to support Ford’s mobility work.

SEE: Ford expands self-driving vehicle tests to Austin, Texas (CNET Roadshow)

In Austin’s Smart Mobility Roadmap from 2017, one of the city’s goals is to reduce the number of single-rider commuters. Many cities are addressing the “first mile/last mile problem” to reduce congestion.

A Ford spokesman said that the company sees self-driving vehicles as part of the solution to easing congestion, not the entire solution–public transportation and micro-mobility services are other important components. Ford shut down Chariot, its carpool on-demand service, in early 2019. The company plans to use data it collected from Chariot to move forward with  other mobility ventures.

Linking mobility and quality of life

Ford is expanding its self-driving work to Austin in part because the city is one of the fastest growing metro regions in the US. More residents means more drivers on the road. Ford’s City Insights Platform considers the effect of transportation on livability, reflecting the fact that people are recognizing that long commutes make it hard to develop healthy habits.

In a survey of 7,000 commuters, mobility startup Scoop found that 62% of respondents report not applying to jobs based on the commute.   

Also, American workers say their lifestyles would be much healthier without the stress of the commute. If the daily commute were shorter, survey respondents say they would:

“The State of the American Commute” surveyed 7,000 workers in 16 major metropolitan regions across the United States. Scoop has its own mobility angle–the company just raised $60 million to expand its enterprise car-pooling solution.

If autonomous vehicles simply make it easier to ride alone in a passenger vehicle, that won’t do anything to reduce traffic jams. To hit ambitious goals like removing 20% of cars from highways, cities will have to do more than make streets friendly for autonomous cars. As Austin city planners recognized in the city’s Mobility Road Map, new solutions will have to support behavior change as well as new technology.

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Ford is testing software in Ann Arbor to predict the impact of new mobility services before the changes are implemented.

Image: Charlotte Smith/Ford Motor Co.



Ford expands mobility work to Austin and Ann Arbor