- Artificial intelligence is changing the way Ford Motor Company delivers the customer experience, morphing the organization into a "mobility company" with AI as a "core competency," said Ken Washington, VP, research and advanced engineering and chief technology officer at Ford Motor Company, speaking Tuesday at a Recode event in Washington.
- "We have to have an AI core competency, not only because you need AI in order to pull off the self driving task, but in parallel to slowly and gradually rolling out fully self driving vehicles to a small set of cities," Washington said. "We are going to keep putting more and more AI into the vehicles that people are buying and leasing and renting and using."
- In addition to weaving AI into its vehicles — customer-facing or autonomous — Ford applied AI in its manufacturing process. Through its presence in Silicon Valley, Ford has met over 1,000 startups, said Washington. One startup used AI to detect flaws and Ford integrated the technology to detect wrinkles in seats, using image recognition to improve the manufacturing process.
At first glance, wrinkles in car seats seems like a trivial problem.
But in the manufacturing process, Ford had to hire workers to look at every car seat that went through production. By using AI, Ford can automate quality assurance.
In the realm of AI, applications have differing levels of impact and severity. AI in the manufacturing process, discovering wrinkles and alleviating pain points, is nice to have. AI in autonomous vehicles, however, impacts life or death.
That is the challenge traditional car companies face as they introduce AI into vehicles and become more focused on mobility. In the future, vehicles could serve as a personalized "oasis" for the passenger, even if they don't own the car, Washington said. Ideal settings and preferences can travel with a passenger on their smartphone, which serves as a conduit to data and the cloud.
Even before autonomous vehicles become a readily-accessible reality (industry is still a few years away from that), companies can put smarter technology into cars on the road.
"We can provide more and more driver assistance because the technology is getting cheaper, sensors are getting smaller, compute is getting faster, memory is getting more," said Washington.
With data comes responsibility. Conversations are swirling in the realm of AI ethics, and companies traditionally outside of technology are mulling how to treat data as cars become computers on wheels and ripe data repositories.
Ford is working to treat data with intention, both the collection and the diversity of data, Washington said. Part of that is ensuring Ford uses data as promised, part of the contract Ford has with the rider, driver or vehicle owner.
Then "you don't break that trust," Washington said. "Trust is really hard to gain and really easy to lose."