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Report: Ford planning separate autonomous car unit, intends to use Google’s self-driving software


According to a report today out of The Wall Street Journal, Ford, as part of its plan to reinvent itself, is planning to create a separate business unit dedicated to its ambitions in autonomous cars for “ride-sharing and fleets.” Of course the company is seeking partnerships in this space, and it just so happens that, just as was reported by Yahoo Autos a few weeks ago, Alphabet Inc.’s Google is a big part of this move…

While Ford is said to be building at least some of the software for its future autonomous cars (including software for the car’s main components), Google will likely be providing the autonomous driving side of things.

Mr. Fields, named CEO in mid-2014, could have an ace up his sleeve. The auto maker is in talks with Alphabet, Inc.’s Google, to forge deeper ties with Silicon Valley, where Ford recently expanded its research lab.

As part of this effort, Ford is considering creating a separate business unit dedicated to developing autonomous cars for use in ride-sharing and fleets, say people familiar with the plans. Ford would develop software for components, including steering or braking, while Google would provide the autonomous-driving software that governs those functions, one of these people said.

Google declined to comment on the matter, but Mr. Fields, when WSJ asked about whether the company would make these moves, said, “We are open to all possibilities.”

Google has been testing its self-driving cars for years, and in terms of full autonomy software probably has the most experience of anyone (the only real competition would, appropriately, be Tesla; Elon Musk just dropped his prediction for full autonomy on the roads to 2 years from 3). As of Google’s latest self-driving car report, the company’s cars (both the prototype fully-electric cute-mobiles and the larger Lexus cars) have traveled 1,372,111 miles autonomously.

Interestingly, we’ve also learned today that Ford is making some impressive strides of their own. As was announced at the Detroit Auto Show, the company is now testing its self-driving vehicles in the snow. LIDAR isn’t great at navigating through these less-than-ideal conditions, so Ford is using the LIDAR to detect nearby landmarks, and then switching to onboard maps to drive. This doesn’t work everywhere, but it’s a notable step forward nonetheless.

It was expected that Ford would announce and details its partnership with Google at CES 2016 last week, but that event came and went without any official announcement. Rather than make an announcement about this rumored Google partnership, Ford announced the testing of its third generation autonomous vehicle using LIDAR tech from Velodyne.

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Avatar for Stephen Hall Stephen Hall

Stephen is Growth Director at 9to5. If you want to get in touch, follow me on Twitter. Or, email at stephen (at) 9to5mac (dot) com, or an encrypted email at hallstephenj (at) protonmail (dot) com.