Will the Transition Into Autonomous Cars Be Too Fast?

Courtesy of carlsagan.com

Courtesy of carlsagan.com

American author and astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, once said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” So, as we thrust forward into a science fiction like world of autonomous cars and emission free vehicles, it’s time to take a look back at one of the earliest and most influential vehicle types: the Model T Ford. Historically, the Model T will be remembered in both positive and negative lights, but its impact on the world and today’s automotive scene can never be doubted.

From 1908 to 1927, the Model T dominated the American streets, comprising as much as 40 percent of the cars on the road at one point. Popularly referred to at the time as “Tin Lizzie” and “flivver”, the Model T was made affordable to the common man with an asking price of just $300 in 1925. Of course, most people realize that this was made possible by Henry Ford’s development of the cheap assembly line work style, which went down as Ford’s most recognized innovation. However, it wasn’t the only innovation brought about by the Model T Ford. Some others include:

  • Being the first company to use left hand drive, which is still popular here in America. Across the pond, however, they do like their steering wheel to be on the right side of the vehicle.
  • Being the first to have a separate head and block. In a recent article from Popular Mechanics, author Lindsay Brooke says, “The Model T’s engine pioneered the use of a removable cylinder head, and cylinders that were cast integrally with the engine block. Both are mainstays of modern auto engines.”
Courtesy of Time magazine

Courtesy of Time magazine

But with the innovation and progress brought about by the Model T, many historians and critics like to point out the often forgotten negatives. In a recent Time magazine article entitled “The 50 Worst Cars of All-Time,” the 1909 Ford Model T actually came in as the 2nd worst car ever! Some of this had to do with a poorly put together product, but the main complaint with this Model T is that it was given to too many people too soon.

According to the article, “The Model T- whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse’s ‘disassembly line’- conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers’ boots.”

For current automakers, there is a lot to learn from the successes and failures of the Model T. Over the next few decades, automakers will be attempting to transform the roads into one that is dominated with autonomous cars. According to a recent IHS report, “In all, there should be nearly 54 million self-driving cars in global use by 2035.” By 2050, it is expected that nearly all cars will have some sort of self-driving component. Fortunately, it seems that many environmental issues have been shored up and that there are a lot of positives going on. But will automakers lead us into potential, unforeseen dangers (as seen with the Model T) by forcing change at too fast a rate? Hopefully, the answer is no because we have already learned from the past and are moving forward in a progressive way. Only time will tell.

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Ford Gets Involved in the Autonomous Car Race

Ford's 2014 F-150 Image courtesy of musclemustangfastfords

Ford’s 2014 F-150
Image courtesy of musclemustangfastfords

In 2013, a Ford F-150 sold every 41 seconds, which helped to make the company a 7.6 billion dollar profit. In the years leading up to their financial crisis, Ford may have ridden this success and stayed with the same formula. But, that’s not the mentality that they have going into 2014. Recently, Ford has been getting a lot of publicity for a new line of F-150s that will debut this year. These new trucks have shed an astonishing 700 pounds to the overall truck weight, while still maintaining the full body size.

Across the board, consumers and dealers seem to be excited and are applauding the move. Ford feels the same way; Chief executive Alan Mulally was quoted as saying, “You’re either moving ahead and you’re improving and you’re making [your vehicles] more valuable and more useful to the customer or you’re not.” Even more impressively, this new truck will be able to haul more and tow more because the engine won’t be working as hard to carry excess weight.

This well-received innovation could have been enough for America’s most historic automaker. But once again, it wasn’t. Within the last few days, reports have emerged from the Washington Auto Show saying that Ford is making a serious push in the autonomous vehicle department, as well. At the Auto Show, Ford showcased its automated Ford Fusion Hybrid research car to onlookers that included President Obama. Impressed by theFord displays, Obama said, “When you look at all these cars, it is a testimony to the outstanding work that’s been done by workers, American workers, American designers.”

Moving forward, Ford is propelling this venture by partnering up with two of America’s finest universities- Stanford and MIT- to perform research. Ford higher ups have said that MIT research will focus on ways to predict the actions of other vehicles and pedestrians, while Stanford research will focus on how the vehicle will maneuver in ways to allow sensors to visualize around obstructions.

This investment was very important for the company. In the upcoming years, Ford will be competing with a slew of rival automakers that are all struggling for control of the road’s future. It is believed that by 2025 automated cars will dominate the road (check out more about this here), meaning there is billions of dollars up for grab.

Ford’s chief operating officer Mark Fields agrees, “In the long term, we see a future of connected cars that communicate with each other and with the world around them to improve safety, reduce traffic congestion and

Ford's autonomous research car

Ford’s autonomous research car

achieve major environmental benefits… Our goal is to offer a level of technology in which a driver is still in control and still able to enjoy the driving experience, but in a better, safer and more efficient way.”

Even though the future of innovation is uncertain as far as the roads go, there is one thing that we do know: Ford will be in the mix.