By Liane Yvkoff
Automotive industry insiders are a cynical bunch, and some are skeptical that Ford can meet its self-imposed goal of getting self-driving vehicles on the road by 2021. After all, autonomous taxi companies with a head start, such as Waymo and GM’s Cruise, are operating only in geo-fenced areas and still monitored by humans in the vehicle. But keep in mind—it’s not just about making a self-driving cars, it’s about making money. To do that Ford continues to cast a wide net that extends far beyond its billion dollar investment in the autonomous technology company Argo AI in 2017.
To execute its mobility strategy, the automotive giant announced it acquired Journey Holding Corporation and Quantum Signal AI this week.
Journey Holding Corporation is a logistics operations company that provides software solutions for ”intelligent transportation systems.”
Quantum Signal is a robotics company that, among other things, develops a sophisticated testing simulator for a range of AI systems, and counts the U.S. military as one of its customers.
Ford says it will use QS’s real-time simulation and algorithm development to advance its flexible Transportation as a Service (TaaS) platform. While QS will continue to operate as a separate business entity, Journey Holding will be merged with TransLoc—another recently acquired company that provides technology solutions for public and private transit operations— and will provide fixed route transportation, microtransit on-demand transportation services for the 1200 cities, campuses, and enterprises that it serves.
And with these two companies, parent company Ford inches closer to commercializing its wide-reaching mobility platform that’s more than just a robotic taxi service.
However, if it intends to meet its launch goal of 2021, Ford needs to solve the last few feet of the “last mile” delivery problem. How do you get packages— or people, for that matter—from the vehicle to the door?
As a robotics company, QS also develops computerized visioning and spacial awareness technology to help robots that can be remotely controlled navigate unfamiliar terrain. Sound familiar?
Last year Ford tested its self-driving vehicles and transportation platform in Miami-Dade County in Florida and Washington, D.C. to understand how its technology could help businesses deliver goods and how customers would react to autonomous delivery when they receive them. It found it wasn’t always convenient or possible for customers to retrieve packages themselves, and as a result announced a few months ago a partnership with Agility Robotics.
The two companies collaborated to test Digit, a compactable robot that can autonomously deliver packages and work around obstacles it encounters in unfamiliar environments, as part of Ford’s logistics business.
QS’s technology could be used to help Ford develop their own fleet of intelligent delivery robots that are currently being tested by other delivery start-ups around the U.S.
However, a Ford spokesperson responded in an email that “the company continues to research last mile delivery with Agility, and that Quantum Signal will not be working on that research right now. QS will play a key role in developing Ford AV LLC’s Transportation as a Service (TaaS) platform, as well as vehicle controls that support the customer experience, functional safety and other vehicle systems.”
This still could mean that even if it’s a Waymo robot taxi that picks you up at your house, it could be Ford’s robots that drop off your packages.
Note: This article was edited to include a quote from Ford that was received after publication.
Correction: This article incorrectly stated that Ford acquired Argo AI. Ford invested in Argo AI in 2017, but did not acquire the company.