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Ford CTO hypes 5G in autonomous vehicle future

Ford – one of the largest suppliers of automobiles on the planet – continues to eye 5G and other connection technologies as it works to release cars that can drive themselves.

"So we really believe that 5G and cellular V2X [vehicle to everything] will be key technology enablers for future smart vehicles, including advanced drive assist technologies. It will allow us to do Level 3 driving with more confidence in more places, including in urban environments." said Ford's CTO Ken Washington at a recent investor event, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of his remarks.

Level 3 autonomous driving is basically midway between regular human driving (Level 0) and full-blown computer driving (Level 5). Level 3 involves a car driving itself, but only under certain conditions and with an attentive human.

Washington said that Ford has been investing in locations around Detroit in order to install and test 5G technologies as well as V2X offerings. V2X promises to allow cars to communicate with each other as well as with roadway infrastructure like traffic lights. Ford has been an early and vocal supporter of the cellular V2X standard, C-V2X, and has promised to install it in its vehicles starting next year.

Interestingly, Washington also said that Ford is looking at similar 5G and V2X efforts in China. "We have done some early prototyping in China as well. So we know it's coming. We're going to be an active player in that space," he said.

Those comments are noteworthy as they underscore concerns among American policymakers about the rollout of 5G in the US compared with China. US officials fret that China's large and growing 5G networks will siphon investors and entrepreneurs away from Silicon Valley and other American tech hotspots.

Nonetheless, 5G network operators are likely to cheer Washington's remarks given that they're working to find paying customers for their shiny new 5G networks.

Growing connections
Washington offered a wide-ranging look at Ford's work to install new technologies including 5G into its cars. Already, Ford has made a major investment into 4G; Washington said the company has already sold 5 million connected cars.

"Now they're all connected, right? And so we're starting to get data to understand how these customers use their vehicles," he said. "And so we can take that and translate it into new applications that'll improve how they use their vehicles, because we understand how they use them."

He explained that Ford is developing a "centralized, high-performance compute cluster" in its products that will collect and process data from sensors in and around the car. He said the company hopes to update and improve those computing functions via over-the-air updates, potentially on Wi-Fi, 4G or 5G networks.

Washington also said that Ford is investing in various autonomous driving technologies, including through its new Argo joint venture with Volkswagen. He said the company is working to move beyond autonomous driving "Level 2++," and may do so via a Level 4 effort with Argo working in Miami, Austin, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Palo Alto and other cities. He said that program could launch in 2023.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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