Last July, Research and Markets released a report on trends in the autonomous vehicles market that forecast the global autonomous vehicles market revenue to grow by a compound annual growth rate of 39.6 percent between 2017 and 2027, when the market was expected to reach $126.8 million. One month earlier, a report on the growing “passenger economy” commissioned by Intel reflected that passenger economy revenues would increase to $800 billion by 2035 and then up to $7 trillion by 2050. This includes both pilotless vehicles as well as the use of mobility-as-a-service platforms by both businesses and consumers, the latter of which is expected to contribute more than half of the 2050 revenue target. The Intel study also gave a conservative estimate that 585,000 lives would be saved between 2035 and 2045 because of the shift to driverless cars.
A statement published on the official website of Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) indicates that the company expects to have a fully autonomous car in commercial operation by 2021. Ford believes that it will be able, by that time, to produce a vehicle which meets Level 4 automation as standardized by the engineering association SAE International. Last October, Ford CEO Jim Hackett announced that Ford will bring autonomous vehicles to a test market this year. One of the strategies the company will pursue is partnering with other companies to help bring the technology into the market, such as autonomous Domino’s pizza delivery services in Miami where the company will test how consumers interact with autonomous delivery services. Ford is investing $ 1 billion into vehicle artificial intelligence firm Argo AI to develop systems that give Ford vehicles the ability to transverse an urban environment like Miami.
According to a study released last year by consulting firm Navigant, Ford is winning the race towards bringing driverless car technology to market, outpacing competitors like General Motors, Renault-Nissan, Daimler, and Volkswagen. However, only a month after that study was released, investors shared their displeasure regarding former Ford CEO Mark Fields’ policy of heavy spending on driverless and electric car research by logging out of the annual shareholder meeting held online in May 2017. Fields would be replaced by current CEO Hackett shortly after that meeting.
Recently, news outlets have picked up on reports that Ford is trying to patent an autonomous police vehicle. Ford has been building cars for police departments since 1963, some of the earliest models being the Ford Torino, the Ford Fairline and the Ford Galaxie. Today, vehicles like the Ford F150, the Ford Police Interceptor Sedan, The Ford Edge, and the Ford Police Interceptor Utility are in use by police departments across North America.
While fully autonomous cars are not on the market and only in test phases, the technology outlined in Ford’s U.S. Patent Application 20180018869, titled Autonomous Police Vehicle, claims a method in which a processor associated with the police vehicle can obtain an indication of a violation of one or more traffic laws by an offender. The police vehicle may then be maneuvered, by the processor, to pursue the offender. It may also execute one or more actions such as establishing a wireless communication with the offender to transmit a message indicating the violation. While idle, the vehicle may learn to park where violations of traffic can be viewed.
Police cars are not the only kind of emergency vehicle for which Ford is developing self-driving systems. Autonomous ambulances and fire trucks could be enabled by the technology detailed in U.S. Patent Application 20170192429, titled Autonomous Vehicle Emergency Operating Mode. It discloses a method in which a vehicle computing device stores instructions which are executable to detect an emergency vehicle near a host vehicle, receive operation data from other nearby vehicles and transmit the operational data to the emergency vehicle. The emergency vehicle may broadcast its route to nearby autonomous vehicles, as well as operate the lights and sirens to communicate to a human driver that an emergency vehicle is operating. When the lights and sirens have stopped, the vehicle may be treated as a normal vehicle by other autonomous vehicles.
Ford is working to develop other emergency related technologies using autonomous vehicles like the one described in U.S. Patent Application 20170364069, titled Autonomous Behavioral Override Utilizing an Emergency Corridor. It discloses a method in which an emergency response system made up of a driverless vehicle, infrastructure nodes in the area, and an emergency router work to create an emergency corridor to a facility, such as a hospital, for the autonomous vehicle. In an emergency situation, the autonomous vehicle detects whether its passenger is experiencing a medical emergency, and an emergency router selects a route from the car to the emergency response facility. Along the way, infrastructure nodes broadcast messages such as the current location, heading, and speed of the vehicle holding the incapacitated passenger to other vehicles. These vehicles will then provide audio and visual instructions to clear the lane for emergency vehicle. Driverless vehicles are designed to follow traffic laws, so the creation of an emergency corridor in which vehicles make way for an autonomous car holding an individual experiencing a medical emergency, is more probable than one in which human drivers disregard the emergency broadcast and do not make way to create an emergency corridor.
Ford is also developing systems for preventing the theft of self-driving cars, evidenced by the issue of U.S. Patent No. 9688244, entitled Autonomous Vehicle Theft Prevention. This patent discloses a system made up of a server with memory and one or more hardware processors, that is configured to receive an encrypted payload of a destination request specifying a destination location for an autonomous vehicle. The destination request includes a vehicle identifier, a unique timestamp, and instructions to retrieve a long key from the data store of the server. The server is able to verify that autonomous vehicle commands aren’t made by unauthorized sources.
Despite any claim to the contrary, Ford is a company that is trying to stay very innovative and the company earned more patents in 2016 than it had ever received in one year. While self-driving police vehicles reminiscent of RoboCop may be a few years away, Ford is in a good position to achieve business success in the growing market for autonomous vehicles.