The race to create autonomous vehicles is certainly heating up, with Ford announcing today that they plan on delivering hands-off, eyes-off semi-autonomous driving in their next truck (read: Ute) in 2025.
As part of what Ford is calling ‘Project T3’, Ford will create their second generation electric truck, following on from the F150 Lightning. In the announcement video, Ford highlights their more than 100-year automotive history, having started production of the first truck, the Model TT back in 1917.
The problem is, and Ford surprisingly admits this in the video, asking the question ‘what’s new?’ referring to the new challenge of building electric vehicles. The answer to that question – almost everything.
While legacy automobiles will quickly tell you how experienced they are, electric vehicles are the big reset for the industry, a once-in-a-generation rewrite of how vehicles are made. This transition is much greater than simply changing out the drivetrain, but a complete re-think on what vehicles can and will be in the future.
Sure, vehicles will still ship with 4 wheels, but the switch to EV is being leveraged to rethink everything. The user interface to the vehicle is going touch-first, the software is updatable over the air and gets better as time goes on, the interior dash and dials are being re-thought, as are the techniques to heat and cool the cabin, along with driver profiles and security with the move to digital keys using your phone.
These changes mean you need a different set of skills in your organisation to meet the modern-day expectations of vehicle owners in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Today it seems, Ford recognises that simple driver-assist technology is no longer enough, they need to race towards autonomy. In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Ford’s CEO Jim Farley announced they were leveraging 600 engineers from the now-defunct ArgoAI autonomous driving company.
These employees would combine with Ford engineers and technicians to expand on the hands-off functionality offered by BlueCruise (limited US highways) and committed to offering a semi-autonomous driving experience that would let you take your eyes off the road and even go to sleep.
There are of course some big caveats carved out here, firstly this again sounds like it’ll be highway only, it’ll be only available in good weather, which actually raises some big concerns about their technology stack if you’re expected to wake up and take over as soon as a few rain drops hit the windscreen.
What is interesting is the runway for this semi-autonomous future. Ford announced this new Project T3 truck will be made at their upcoming Blue Oval City in West Tennessee in 2025. It’ll be interesting to watch if today’s announcement has any Osborne effect on the F150 lightning as this eye-off semi-autonomous tech, sounds like it will only be available in the gen2 truck, meaning existing vehicles won’t be upgraded to it.
Estimating timelines in the autonomous space is fraught with danger, with Tesla’s FSD system still in development, many years after Elon Musk proclaimed there’d be a million robotaxis on the road a number of years ago.
Ford themselves announced back in 2017, that they’d have a fully autonomous vehicle in volume by 2021, but that has still not occurred.
Previous accuracies aside, the race for autonomous driving is heating up. This should serve as additional motivation for Tesla to deliver on their promises. If Tesla ships a vehicle with the ability to go to sleep in it, even with caveats like highway-only and in sunny conditions, it will certainly be perceived that they are leading the race.
Those who watch this space closely will understand that approaches to autonomy vary dramatically between companies and Tesla’s best software, FSD Beta, still requires drivers to monitor the vehicle, but does feature the ability to navigate city streets and is not weather dependent.
Farley was asked about potential software subscriptions and confirmed they’re not interested in having users subscribe for seat heating, however, did stop short of sharing details about what an eye-off semi-autonomous subscription would cost. Today, BlueCruise costs $600 for a 3-year subscription.
Much of what we heard from Ford today will sound familiar to Tesla owners, including an on-board camera security system built into the truck. Project T3 will feature the ability to monitor the vehicle remotely, basically a copy of Tesla’s Sentry mode, and will include a camera to monitor your tools in the bed of the truck in an effort to reduce theft, or at least identify the culprits.
Features like this will quickly become standard in the industry, like OTA Updates and digital keys.