Like the race to get to space between the United States and Soviet Russia, the race to build autonomous cars is revving up. Autonomous, or self-driving, cars detect their surroundings using GPS, radar, and computer vision among other things. Self-driving cars are becoming so important to car companies because all signs point to autonomous cars being the future of the roads.
Friday afternoon, Ford announced it would invest $1 billion over in a previously unheard of startup for self-driving cars. Ford will be teaming up with Argo AI, led by Google and Uber veterans, to develop the fully autonomous car. Argo AI hopes to have 200 employees by year’s ends split between Silicon Valley, Michigan, and Pittsburgh. All automakers’ worst nightmare is to turn into Nokia, which was a global leader in cell phones until Apple turned the whole world upside with its new, sleek iPhone. Nokia just couldn’t keep up with the Silicon Valley giants such as Google and Apple. It is obvious that Ford will spend a very ample amount to avoid this and they hope their self-driving cars will help.
This enormous investment is a huge risk for the American car company. First of all, there is already a lot of competition in the field of autonomous cars. Competitors such as Tesla, Uber, Google, Volkswagen, Alphabet, and more, are already well ahead of Ford. A problem regarding this is that Ford is not as flashy as companies such as Tesla and Google. Since it can be assumed that future first generation models of driverless cars will be pretty expensive, people will be more likely to get the cars of the more “techy” companies because they will already be spending a lot of money so why not spend just a little bit more for it to be a Google or Tesla car. Google currently has the most autonomous cars on California public roads with 424,331 cars (Fung). Tesla is the current frontrunner, given that “the company announced last October that all of its cars will now have the hardware necessary to become autonomous vehicles,” (Salzman). This puts Tesla ahead of the curve because if and once self-driving cars actually become a “thing”, Tesla will have the ability to make all of their current cars autonomous.
Not only will Ford have to deal with competitors, but what if self-driving cars really are not the future? Right now, other than Google, there are obviously not many cars on the road without drivers, so it really is just assumptions and hope that autonomous cars will be the way of transportation for the future. However, if autonomous cars aren’t the future, Ford just wasted a plethora of money with this investment.
In my opinion, if Ford wants to remain as one of the powerhouse American car companies, this is a risk worth taking. A lot can definitely go wrong, but this could make them one of the more reliable autonomous car companies if they do ever become a staple of the road.