There’s no denying the fact that autonomous vehicle technology is well and truly establishing itself as the next big thing in the automotive world. From Tesla’s autopilot software through to Hyundai’s recently-announced self-driving Tucson Hydrogen Fuel Cell SUV prototype, every major automaker and tier one parts supplier are investing heavily in autonomous vehicle technology.
To date, there has been little collaboration between the individual companies developing autonomous vehicle technology. But, says both Yahoo Autos, that’s about to change with a new partnership between Detroit automotive giant Ford and Silicon Valley software giant Google.
Citing three different sources familiar with the partnership, Yahoo Autos says the two companies will announce their official partnership at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show. The partnership is expected to see Ford supply Google with the vehicles it needs to further its autonomous driving program, while Google in return will supply Ford with autonomous vehicle technology that can be used in its own cars.
Both Ford and Google have been working independently on autonomous vehicle technology for many years. Ford, while publicly quiet of its autonomous vehicle program until recently, has been testing autonomous vehicle hardware and software for some time on private test tracks. Google meanwhile, has been actively testing autonomous vehicle prototypes on closed test tracks since 2007 and on public roads in autonomous vehicle-friendly states like Nevada since 2012.
To date, Google has logged more than 1.3 million autonomously-driven miles across its fleet of autonomous vehicles. Those cars — 53 vehicles in total ranging from autonomous Toyota Prii hybrids to self-driving Lexus 450h hybrids and more recently, Google’s own custom-made low-speed electric ‘pod cars’ — have helped Google become a world leader in autonomous vehicle technology, despite its assertions that it has no interest in building its own production vehicle.
The tie-in with Ford would allow Google to continue developing and producing autonomous vehicle technology without having to worry about the challenges of navigating a completely new area of business — namely the automotive industry. Interestingly too, while Ford will supply vehicles to Google to use, it is understood that the venture would be its own legal entity as a way of protecting Ford from any liability concerns that would arise from any collisions or accidents. This is particularly important since Google, as well as German automaker Mercedes-Benz, have recently followed Swedish automaker Volvo in promising that it would accept liability for any accidents involving one of its vehicles driving in autonomous mode.
While Volvo, Google and Mercedes-Benz may have faith in their own autonomous drive technology, it appears Ford — or at least its board of directors — is more cautious about making such a pledge.
Although Ford is believed to be the first major automaker to strike a deal with a software company over autonomous driving technology, it is certainly not the only automaker Google is believed to be in talks with over developing autonomous vehicles for the near future. While Google isn’t keen to comment on the specifics, sources told Yahoo Autos that the company has been talking to “several other automakers for some time” about using its platform-agnostic autonomous driving technology in their vehicles. Ford meanwhile, said that it regularly works with many different companies as part of developing its Ford Smart Mobility plan, but did not publicly disclose those discussions “for obviously competitive reasons.”
Ford may be reluctant to confirm or deny its involvement with Google at this point, but it’s well worth noting that former Ford CEO Alan Mulally joined the Google board of directors just eight days after retiring from his role at Ford. Google has also more recently hired John Krafcik as the CEO of its self-driving car program. Krafcik, an established auto-industry executive, spent fourteen years at Ford before becoming CEO of Hyundai Motor America and later, President of TrueCar Inc.
Rumors aside, Ford did make an official announcement last week outlining its intent to begin autonomous vehicle testing on the roads of California, a program which would see it test fully-autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrids on the public roads in and around the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto. The announcement, the latest part in a ten-year plan to bring autonomous vehicles to market,
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