Ford is looking into the distant future in an attempt to figure out how to stop traffic gridlock in cities. In a short time — within months maybe — Ford will announce a partnership with a small- to medium-size American city to test out the use of autonomous cars by small businesses and a sort of shared-ride communications system to augment public transportation.
“From subway systems and bus lines to taxi fleets, ride-hailing services and personal vehicles, cities offer lots of ways to get around. This abundance of choice must make life easier, right? Unfortunately, no,” Ford said in a statement. “And that’s because each mode of transportation has been optimized to work as well as it possibly can on its own, but getting them all to work together hasn’t been at the top of too many to-do lists. It would be, though, if more of us involved in the transportation system were focused on optimizing mobility for the people in our cities versus the technology itself.”
There are a few ways to do that.
Ford is working with a company called Autonomic to develop a way for transportation sources like buses, bicycles, self-driving cars and even stoplights to all speak to each other using a common language so they can work more efficiently together. Ford is also working with Qualcomm to create global adoption of C-V2X, or cellular vehicle-to-everything communication that will help share that information. And Ford will partner with delivery service specialists Postmates to get autonomous cars to act as delivery vehicles for businesses within the city, be they pizza parlors, flower shops or package delivery services. The idea is that businesses could thrive if they got together and shared autonomous cars to help them run.
To illustrate this transportation utopia, Ford built a small city of its own right there at CES, first as a two-dimensional background to Ford president and CEO Jim Hackett’s keynote address Tuesday morning, then as the actual city of the future at the Ford stand in the North Hall of CES. It was a nice little city, both the one on-screen behind Hackett and the one constructed in the Convention Center. Both were filled with happy people walking around, talking, making mobile phone calls, riding bikes and occasionally even driving cars, presumably Fords, though it was hard to tell.
“Transport systems in most major cities have reached capacity,” Hackett said in his address. “It’s time to bring our streets into the sharing economy.”
“The Living Street,” as Hackett called it, was a paradise of shared usage where pedestrians, bicycles and cars got along just fine and no one ever honked or got run over. Even the curbs changed as needed to help everyone and everything keep moving. Will it work? CES is a platform for sharing ideas. Why couldn’t shared streets be one of them? Check back with us in 100 years.