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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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Girls get 50,000 toy cars to combat stereotypes

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“That’s for boys, not for girls” – a social stigma Mercedes-Benz USA and Mattel are determined to change, and they are hoping that donating 50,000 toy cars can help. Kicking off today for National STEM/STEAM Day, 50,000 young girls across the nation will engage in programs to challenge gender stereotypes that research shows can impact decisions later in life. It’s all part of “No Limits,” an initiative created by Mercedes-Benz in partnership with Mattel and the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP), a network of organizations that encourages girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

The first “No Limits” programs launch today with special workshops in Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York City, where thousands of young children will be inspired to think outside of the box when it comes to career aspirations. Through February 2020, girls across the U.S., through more than 100 organizations, will engineer toy racetracks, design cars, engage with female role models and attend STEM workshops through programs designed to expand how they see their future.

As a tangible reminder that they can do anything they set their minds to, MBUSA and Mattel will gift 50,000 Matchbox die-cast toy replicas of a very special Mercedes-Benz 220SE to participating children. It was in this car that Ewy Rosqvist defied all odds to become the first woman to compete in and win one of the most grueling races, the Argentinian Grand Prix, shattering records and the notion that women could not compete.

“Whatever they aspire to be – an astronaut, engineer, judge, nurse, even the President, we want all children to dream big, dream bold and never give up on that dream,” said Mark Aikman, general manager of marketing services for MBUSA. “We’ve seen that stories like Ewy’s – championing women trailblazers and achievers – can have a big impact by calling into question the gender stereotypes that children may inadvertently adopt.”

In fact, according to the National Science Board, women only represent 29% of the current science and engineering workforce. When asked their reasons for not majoring in STEM, young women often cite a lack of encouragement and role models.

“The No Limits initiative is important to the future success of our young girls,” said Karen Peterson founder and CEO of the NGCP. “Demand for workers with STEM-based skills is rapidly growing, yet women are still significantly underrepresented in these fields. We know that gender associations are formed at a very young age. We applaud Mercedes-Benz and Mattel in their efforts to breakdown the gender stereotypes that keep young girls from engaging in STEM studies.”

Earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz released a video capturing young girls designating an assortment of traditionally gendered toys. After being shown the short film, Ewy Rosqvist: An Unexpected Champion, each girl has a visible attitude shift towards toys they previously identified as just “for boys.”

Last month, Digital Girl, Inc., a Brooklyn-based non-profit dedicated to empowering the underserved youth of New York City, especially young girls, to pursue studies and careers in STEM fields, tested this theory with similar results. A new video documents the results as the girls realize that they can be the next generation of female trailblazers and they themselves talk about the need to inspire more girls.

“Our goal is to inspire children to imagine all that they can become and break down gender stereotypes in the toy aisle with purpose-driven programs like this,” said Amanda Moldavon, Senior Director, Vehicles Brand Creative. “Most people don’t know that the creator of Matchbox made the first vehicle for his daughter who was only allowed to bring toys to school that fit inside a matchbox. So, from its origin, it has been an inclusive way for kids to explore the world around them.”

More than 100 organizations across the country will participate in No Limits including Atlanta Public Schools, Digital Girl, Inc., Beyond the Bell, among others. A list of all participating organizations can be found here. A discussion guide is available for those who have an opportunity to encourage and mentor young children and would like to help advance this conversation.

In addition to the toy cars that will be gifted by MBUSA and Mattel (also in support of closing the Dream Gap) through the National Girls Collaborative, the Ewy Matchbox toy replica will be sold in stores nationwide beginning in December. Follow the No Limits initiative on social using #GirlsHaveNoLimits.

Both “No Limits” videos were produced by R/GA, New York.

About Ewy Rosqvist

Ewy Rosqvist is a Swedish racing champion who in 1962 made history for being the first woman to enter and win one of the toughest rallies in the world. After watching her husband race for years, she decided to take it up herself and entered the Argentinian Grand Prix – a gruelling three-day journey across rough terrain. Ewy was ridiculed for entering the race and told she wouldn’t be able to complete the course. Not only did she finish, she went on to be the first person to win every stage of the race, set a speed record and beat the previous champion by over three hours.

About Mercedes-Benz USA

Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA), the sales and marketing arm for Mercedes-Benz in the United States and headquartered in Atlanta, is responsible for the distribution, marketing and customer service for all Mercedes-Benz products in the United States from the sporty A-Class sedan to the flagship S-Class and the Mercedes-AMG GT R.

MBUSA’s philanthropic focus is on educating and empowering youth. On a national level, the company supports Laureus Sport for Good which uses sports to help at-risk youth and the Johnny Mac Soldier’s Fund which provides scholarships to children of the fallen military.

In Atlanta, MBUSA is involved with over 50 organizations in its effort to educate and empower the next generation to achieve success and address local needs in its community, particularly Atlanta’s Westside, the area surrounding the Mercedes-Benz Stadium that includes under-resourced neighbourhoods. MBUSA has won numerous awards for its community efforts including, A Gold Stevie® Award for its Greatness Lives Here campaign, Corporate Champion Tree recognition from Trees Atlanta and a Community Impact Award from the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

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Keeping tabs on Mini from afar

The Mini Cooper Clubman is putting the ‘remote’ in ‘remote control’. The Mini Connected Drive option pushes all the right buttons, finds BRYAN TURNER.

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While Mini has had Connected Drive Remote Services on board for just over a year now, the Cooper Clubman reveals how powerful such technology can be. From remote controlled car commands like locking and unlocking, to car servicing details, it makes complete sense to add this option to one’s Mini configuration for additional peace of mind.

The Cooper Clubman shows off a slightly different configuration of the Connected Drive system that seems to be slightly more streamlined than before. To pair the car to a phone, one needs to download the Mini Connected Drive app from the App Store for iPhone or Play Store for Android. The app is different from the BMW Connected Drive app.

Once the app is installed, users create a Mini account. The app will then request the last seven characters of the Mini’s vehicle identification number. Because this is a public-facing number, the car confirms that it is connecting by displaying another code on the infotainment screen. After confirming that code in the app, Mini will confirm the car’s registration on their servers. This process takes about five minutes.

While this sounds like quite a process, it’s really simple, and ensures the connected car isn’t hacked. This is crucial because the car is fitted with 4G/LTE, making it Internet-facing to ensure users can control it from virtually anywhere. This process shows a carefully thought-out user design that’s focused on security.

The app’s home view provides an intuitive way of checking up on the car while the driver is away. It allows users to lock and unlock the car while away, which is useful for those who worry about whether their cars are locked while they’re far from their vehicles. It also helps drivers find their cars in parking lots. One can either select the discreet option of remotely activating the headlamps, or go a bit louder by activating the horn remotely.

For those who don’t know the approximate location of their car, one can activate the Locate Vehicle feature, which uses the car’s GPS to send a map location back to the app.

Thinking about how hot one’s car is going to be, especially when parking it in the sun, is no longer something Mini Connected Drive users have to worry about. Users can either activate ventilation remotely to cool the car before they get in, or schedule ventilation for later in the day if they know when an appointment is going to end. One can also get a notification on the smartphone, or smartwatch, when the car has cooled to the requested temperature.

A pre-ride check can be done from the app, by checking the tyre pressure and engine oil without going near the car. This can also be done on the infotainment panel from within the car.

Typing in destinations can be performed from the app, which makes it more comfortable when inputting longer addresses, compared to typing in on the infotainment touchscreen. If calendar appointments hold address information, the address automatically syncs and appears on the infotainment screen for single-tap navigation. Favourites for the on-board navigation can be set from the app as well.

One can also install specific apps to the infotainment system via the Connected Drive app. These include Spotify, Deezer, Audible, and Life 360. The apps are certified and optimised by Mini to be used from the infotainment system.

On the top-of-the-range John Cooper Works performance kit, it comes standard with keyless ride, and a redesigned graphical display called Radio Mini Visual Boost. The infotainment panel is a 6.5 inch touchscreen with a separate scroll wheel controller. An option called Connected Navigation Plus offers a larger 8.8-inch touchscreen, with real-time traffic updates, a personal concierge service, wireless charging for smartphones, and includes Apple CarPlay. 

CarPlay allows iPhone users to access iPhone apps from the touchscreen, which makes navigation with Google Maps, Waze or Apple Maps possible. One can also talk to Siri while driving, to send messages or make calls. The CarPlay option can also work wirelessly, in addition to the regular cable connected option. Unfortunately, Android users are out of luck with Android Auto connectivity. That said, all the other features, like Bluetooth audio and contact sync, still work perfectly with the system

The Mini Connected Drive app offers a highly convenient method of checking on and controlling one’s Mini while away.

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