Weekly Brief: Ford looks to Canada for connected car growth

Detroit car giant wants to turn Canada into its connected car wellspring. Andrew Tolve reports.

Ford has talked a big game this year about transforming itself from a traditional automaker into a mobility company of the future. Last week it put its money where its mouth is with a $375M (£299M) investment in a new Ottawa research and engineering centre in Canada, which will focus on research and development across infotainment, in-vehicle modems, gateway modules, driver-assist features and autonomous vehicles. The company says the money will also fund new connected car research at four of its existing facilities in Canada and America. Ford also pledged $200M to open an advanced data centre in Michigan.

Perhaps the most interesting component of this R&D investment is that Ford plans to populate the Ottawa research centre with a team of 400 software and hardware engineers plucked straight from embattled smartphone maker Blackberry. Ford has an existing relationship with Blackberry, whose QNX operating system powers the Ford SYNC 3 infotainment platform, yet Blackberry says that none of the engineers will come from this division but from its mobile communications team instead. If you want to turn a car into a smartphone on wheels, hire smartphone engineers, the logic seems to go. The addition will more than double Ford's connectivity team.

In other news, April is Distracted Driver Awareness Month in the US, where the rise of technology in the car has led to a spike in road related deaths. Last week the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) projected an 11% increase in the number of pedestrians killed on US.roadways last year, the largest annual increase ever recorded. GHSA blames the growth in part on the double whammy of pedestrians and drivers distracted by smartphones at the same time. Back in February the National Safety Council estimated that 2016 was the deadliest year on American roadways since 2007, with upward of 40,000 deaths. This represents a 14% growth in two years, again in part owing to digital distractions.

Toyota wants to tap the automotive Big Data opportunity and it has partnered up with telecommunications company NTT Group for help. The two plan to jointly build an information and communication technology (ICT) platform that can mitigate traffic accidents and congestion. The platform will also aim to provide customers with new mobility services by combining voice interaction technology with artificial intelligence and analysis of the environment inside and outside the vehicle. The research will get underway this year in Japan.

IBM filed a patent for a technology that addresses one of the trickiest challenges for self-driving cars: determining when they need a hand from human drivers. The tech uses machine learning to determine whether any problem that arises in the car is best handled by a human or the vehicle control processor. IBM also filed for a patent for a technology that harnesses artificial intelligence to teach cars how to anticipate how human drivers behave behind the wheel, from pushing to make a yellow light to trying to jump ahead of other cars in traffic.

Uber and LeasePlan entered into a pan-European ridesharing partnership. First and foremost LeasePlan will offer Uber drivers cars for lease in their local markets. LeasePlan will also provide a broad package of services, from repairs and maintenance to insurance. Uber and LeasePlan have an existing partnership in France, Portugal and the Netherlands.

Pizza chain Domino’s is turning to self-driving robots to deliver your next pie. The company launched a pilot last week in Hamburg, Germany, with an eighteen-pound robot named Starship. She's got six wheels, a carrying capacity of five medium pizzas and a slew of on-board sensors and cameras a là the self-driving cars from Waymo and Uber. With one extra-large difference, that is: Starship rides on the sidewalk and maxes out at a blazing speed of 4mph. Domino’s hopes self-driving robots (and perhaps cars one day) will help expedite deliveries and overcome so-called “last mile” inefficiencies.

Finally, Lexus dropped a doozy of an April Fools’ Day gag with the announcement of Lexus Lane Valet, a “semi-autonomous” system that allows drivers to realise the holy grail of driving: quickly and effortlessly moving slower cars out of their way. At the push of a button, Lane Valet communicates with the slower car via vehicle-to-vehicle communication, then proceeds to shift it over to the proper lane via radar and lane departure technology — without the slower driver having any say in the matter!

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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