We look at Ford’s ambitious plans to be the leader in autonomous vehicles and what the arrival of self-driving cars could mean for the in-car experience. We also dive into Snap’s new video recording glasses.
Ford invests $1 billion in Argo AI to build self-driving cars by 2021
Back in 2016, Ford stated that it aims to leapfrog fellow carmakers and produce the world’s first high-volume driverless vehicle by 2021. Mark Fields, CEO of Ford, is of the belief that “vehicle autonomy could have as big an impact on society as the Ford mass assembly line had over 100 years ago.”. These autonomous cars are expected to be designed specifically for commercial services such as ride-booking or ride-sharing — industries that Ford expects will dominate in the future.
Off the back of this statement, Ford made a number of acquisitions to bolster its in-house capabilities including the purchases of SAIPS (an Israeli machine learning company), Velodyne Lidar (a laser-based driverless system company) as well as an exclusive partnership with Nirenberg Neuroscience (a company specialising in vision processing).
However, it seems that the idea of building in-house has been shelved with the recent announcement that Ford is set to invest $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI, a startup led by two former Google and Uber engineers. This is not an acquisition but instead a deal that sees Argo fully funded by Ford with the sole remit of developing self-driving technology for Ford’s cars, with a view to potentially licensing the technology to other companies in the future. Considering that the founders of Argo, Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander, both left the self-driving car divisions of Google and Uber respectively to set up their own venture, one naturally assumes that the idea of being acquired and absorbed into Ford was a non-starter, or at least met with significant resistance. This and the fact that talent is at a premium (as evidenced by Ford’s own failure!) probably gave Argo all the leverage, which goes some way to explaining the slightly unusual nature of this deal.
Ford’s CEO, Mark Fields, had the following to say about the deal: “With Argo’s agility and its scale, we are combining the benefits of a technology startup with the experience and discipline we have at Ford”.
Will there be a jostle for in-car attention?
Keeping with the self-driving cars theme, its arrival looks like it will open up a new opportunity. As Michael Boland from TechCrunch explains, this new opportunity will come from the fact that people’s attention will no longer be focused on driving cars and therefore, will be up for grabs.
Indeed, Uber seems to already be experimenting in this space. For example, only a few months ago, it launched special Snapchat filters that could only be unlocked in-ride. Uber have also recently released an update to their app in which maps, ETA and other information is displayed once a ride is underway. This recent update may be the first steps towards striking partnerships with other brands, allowing Uber to use this concept of an ‘in-ride mode’ to bring exclusive, premium content to riders and maybe even targeted adverts.
Nicholas Goubert, the VP of Product at HERE says that “if you think about it [the in-car driving experience] as an extension of your house or office, you’re going to have more screen real estate to explore things. To me that’s the evolution of autonomous driving”. In fact, Goubert went on to say that HERE have already been receiving an increased number of quote requests for installing heads-up displays in cars from manufacturers.
The research community may still be grappling with self-driving technology itself but clearly that’s not stopping manufacturers and the likes of Uber from thinking ahead to the UX of a self-driving car.
Snap begins selling Spectacles online in the US
Snap’s IPO is one of the most anticipated of 2017 and it just got a bit more interesting with the announcement that US customers can now buy its video recording glasses for $129.99 from Spectacles.com. The timing is interesting as it comes only a few weeks before the IPO in what is probably a deliberate attempt to generate more positive sentiment around Snap and to reaffirm its pivot towards being a ‘camera company’.
Prior to this, Spectacles were only dispensed via vending machines which would land in surprise locations across the US and through a pop-up store in New York. Such a strategy created a feeling of exclusivity and desirability around Snap’s new ‘toy’ and it was also an opportunity, as CEO Evan Spiegel put it, for Snap to “figure out if it fits into people’s lives and seeing how they like it”.
As Ben Evans of Andreessen Horowitz has pointed out, Spectacles are a prime example of a larger trend we are seeing in which commoditised features in smartphones are being ‘unbundled’ and turned into physical devices for use in contexts where a smartphone doesn’t necessarily make the most sense. For example, Spectacles puts a new spin on the camera in a way that isn’t intrusive, Amazon’s Dot/Echo and Google’s Home brings previously smartphone dwelling AI assistants into our home lives and fitness trackers such as FitBits have become well meaning, literally always on hand companions for our wrists.
It will be intriguing to see how well received Snap’s Spectacles will be by the public in the lead-up to the big day at the NYSE. It’s certainly a bold move.
Originally written as part of Hi Mum! Said Dad’s Weekly Digest.
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