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Robots and AI to drive the future at Ford

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Ford has announced the creation of a Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Research team to help shape the future of transportation.

“The impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on the way we get around – even in just the next five to 10 years – will be enormous,” says Ken Washington, vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering and Chief Technical Officer of Ford Motor Company.

Washington says that this move aligns multiple disciplines under one team for a more concerted effort to come to understand the potential for robotics and artificial intelligence. This includes a greater focus on evaluating new sensor technologies, machine-learning methods, technical requirements for entry into global markets, and the development of personal mobility devices, drones and other aerial robotics that can enhance travel.

The new team also serves to advance projects Ford is already working on – such as autonomous vehicles.

In February 2017, Ford announced a plan to invest $1 billion during the next five years in a new artificial intelligence software company, Argo AI, which leads development of Ford’s virtual driver system – the computer platform, sensors, and algorithms – for Ford’s first-generation self-driving vehicle program. The new Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Research team will work concurrently with Argo AI and will be able to put greater emphasis on other developing uses of sensor technology and artificial intelligence, and how those developments can be used in autonomous vehicles.

“Our robotics and artificial intelligence researchers will continue to collaborate with the Argo AI team so we can someday put this promising emerging technology to work in future generations of self-driving vehicles,” says Washington.

The research team is already using the existing Ford virtual driver system for continued research without disrupting Argo AI’s ongoing production work. The team is able to use Ford’s research fleet to experiment with emerging sensing technology and try out new ways of leveraging deep learning techniques.

“This means you’ll likely see at least two separate fleets of self-driving vehicles on the road – one led by the Ford team, conducting advanced research, and another by Argo AI, developing and testing our virtual driver system for production,” explains Washington.

Research and Opportunities

The potential for autonomous vehicle technology to transform society means there’s heavy emphasis on its development, but automation and artificial intelligence can be applied in other ways as well. Ford is already using robotics in manufacturing and logistics, and the new research team will evaluate further advancements in robotics to assist in ergonomically difficult tasks.

Artificial intelligence also plays a big role as part of Ford’s Global Data and Analytic team’s support for sales, marketing and finance, so the team will look to spread the technology to drive smarter decision-making and more personalised experiences.

“Our new research team will continue the relationships we’ve built with startup companies through partnerships, investments and acquisitions,” says Washington. “The startup community is demonstrating tremendous opportunities for us with advanced sensors, deep learning, applied robotics and more, so it’s important for us to continue to foster these relationships.”

Finally, the research team will also lead projects with US universities working on robotics and artificial intelligence, including the University of Michigan, Stanford University, M.I.T., Virginia Tech, Purdue University, Texas A&M, Georgia Institute of Technology and others that Ford is currently developing relationships with. Washington says that the team is especially excited about Ford’s upcoming presence on the University of Michigan campus with the new Ford Motor Company Robotics Building.

“Ford is poised to drive into the future by expanding automation of mobility products and services,” says Washington. “This decision is driving energy with everyone on our team, as it clearly indicates the direction of Ford Motor Company. Because we understand the science of robotics and artificial intelligence, we can establish a team tasked with not just watching the future, but helping to create it.”

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Where is the pickup truck emoji?

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With billions of emoji sent daily and nearly every mode of transportation including cars, scooters, boats, spaceships and ski lifts among the 3,000 approved icons available to emoji users, truck fans noticed a glaring omission: There is no pickup truck. Ford decided it was time to do something about this and is celebrating World Emoji Day with the debut of the pickup truck emoji.

“When customers started demanding a truck emoji, our drive for continuous innovation meant we knew we had to help make it happen,” said Todd Eckert, Ford truck group marketing manager. “Given F-Series’ status as America’s best-selling truck for 42 consecutive years, there’s no one better than Ford to help bring an all-new pickup truck emoji to hard-working texters around the globe.”

The Ford Ranger is one of the top three best-selling vehicles in South Africa having sold 12 784 units in the country in the first half of 2019.

In 2018, Ford submitted a proposal to the Unicode Consortium – the organization that reviews and approves proposals for new emoji – to add a truck to emoji keyboards everywhere. Now, the pickup truck emoji has been short-listed as a candidate for inclusion in a future version of Unicode.

The concept emoji’s capable styling has been tuned to meet current trends. “Our team spent a lot of time digging through message boards, texting influencers and watching social media feeds to really understand our customers’ needs,” said Eric Grenier, Ford social media manager. “People want a truck emoji that’s fresh, stylish, carries their ideas, and ‘tows’ the line on what a truck means. The end result is a modern icon that should give all truck fans a smiley face emoji.”

If the pickup truck emoji is approved in early 2020, the design will be customized for all mobile platforms to meet the needs of customers – from skilled tradespeople to active families and emoji lovers alike.

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Make cars, not waste

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Jaguar Land Rover is trialling an innovative recycling process which converts plastic waste into a new premium grade material that could feature on future vehicles. 

It’s estimated that the amount of waste plastic is predicted to exceed 12 million tonnes globally by 2050*. Today, not all of this plastic can be recycled for use in automotive applications – especially in vehicle parts that are required to meet the most exacting safety and quality standards.

Working in conjunction with chemical company, BASF, Jaguar Land Rover is part of a pilot project called ChemCycling that upcycles domestic waste plastic, otherwise destined for landfill or incinerators, into a new high-quality material. 

The waste plastic is transformed to pyrolysis oil using a thermochemical process. This secondary raw material is then fed into BASF’s production chain as a replacement for fossil resources; ultimately producing a new premium grade that replicates the high quality and performance of ‘virgin’ plastics. Importantly, it can be tempered and coloured making it the ideal sustainable solution for designing the next-generation dashboards and exterior-surfaces in Jaguar and Land Rover models.

Jaguar Land Rover and BASF are currently testing the pilot phase material in a Jaguar I-PACE prototype front-end carrier overmoulding to verify it meets the same stringent safety requirements of the existing original part.

Pending the outcome of the trials and progression in taking chemical recycling to market readiness, adoption of the new premium material would mean Jaguar Land Rover could use domestically derived recycled plastic content throughout its cars without any compromise to quality or safety performance**. 

Chris Brown, Senior Sustainability Manager at Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Plastics are vital to car manufacturing and have proven benefits during their use phase, however, plastic waste remains a major global challenge. Solving this issue requires innovation and joined-up thinking between regulators, manufacturers and suppliers.

“At Jaguar Land Rover, we are proactively increasing recycled content in our products, removing single-use plastics across our operations and reducing excess waste across the product lifecycle. The collaboration with BASF is just one way in which we are advancing our commitment to operating in a circular economy.”

This is the latest example of Jaguar Land Rover’s commitment to addressing the challenge of waste plastic. The company has collaborated with Kvadrat to offer customers alternative seat options that are both luxurious and sustainable. The high-quality material, available initially on the Range Rover Velar and Range Rover Evoque, combines a durable wool blend with a technical suedecloth that is made from 53 recycled plastic bottles per vehicle. 

Jaguar Land Rover has already met its 2020 target for Zero Waste to Landfill for UK operations. This includes the removal of 1.3 million m2 – equal to 187 football pitches – of plastic from its manufacturing lineside and replacing 14 million single use plastic items in business operations. 

Together, these efforts are driving towards Jaguar Land Rover’s vision for Destination Zero; an ambition to make societies safer and healthier, and the environment cleaner. Delivered through relentless innovation to adapt its products and services to the rapidly-changing world, the company’s focus is on achieving a future of zero emissions, zero accidents and zero congestion.

Editor’s notes:

https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full

** All Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles tested have achieved a Euro NCAP 5* rating.

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