Motor City Homecoming: Why Moving Back to Detroit Strengthens Self-Driving Development

By | December 14, 2017

By Sherif Marakby, Ford Vice President, Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification

It’s easy to get sentimental about homecomings. At Ford, this homecoming is a long time in the making.

Beginning in 2018, we’ll be reestablishing our presence in Detroit by moving our autonomous and electric vehicle business development teams to the city’s Corktown neighborhood. This is a special move for several reasons, especially since Detroit is where our visionary founder got his start, learning the lessons he needed to make his dreams of empowering people a reality.

Similarly, relocating our employees is just the beginning of our next chapter in Detroit. Shifting our teams into “The Factory” — a 45,000-square-foot building with a history that spans more than a century — has implications that go far beyond optics: This is a decision that will help strengthen the development of our self-driving vehicles and services. Employees will work hand in hand with our product development, purchasing and marketing, sales and service teams back in Dearborn — where we are undergoing an exciting campus transformation — and will help us move toward our winning aspiration of being the world’s most trusted mobility company, designing smart vehicles for a smart world.

As a company, we are committed to doing our part to improve the entire system of transportation — whether it is moving people from one destination to another or delivering goods. Since we want to deploy self-driving vehicles in a way that enhances people’s lives and improves urban living, it is especially important to understand exactly how these vehicles will need to operate in big cities that are already tackling challenges such as congestion, lack of access, pollution and unpredictable accidents.

While we’re already conducting extensive research into how autonomous vehicles would interact with people on a daily basis, moving more than 220 of our employees into Corktown early next year will only boost our efforts. As a byproduct of living and working in a bustling city neighborhood, employees will develop intimate knowledge of the opportunities and challenges that come with getting around in an urban environment. Being able to identify problems and generate solutions will be a process that will inform our development as a result.

After all, unlocking the true potential of self-driving technology requires asking questions that go well beyond vehicle mechanics. Moving into a thriving Detroit neighborhood like Corktown allows us to do just that, giving our teams a chance to explore infrastructure needs more deeply, as well as less-discussed areas such as curb management, all of which will need to be optimized to support the effective use of self-driving vehicles in the future.

Additionally, with both our autonomous and electric teams working side by side, we can build on our plan to develop our first self-driving car as a hybrid electric vehicle. Employees will get an up-close and personal view of how urban businesses and residents go about their days, offering us the opportunity to develop practical solutions that ensure our self-driving cars can meet their needs when the technology goes live on day one.

Detroit is a place we’ve always called “home,” and returning to the city is about a lot more than reestablishing a connection with our past — it’s about focusing on what’s next. This is where we’ll build our self-driving car business and define our electric vehicle strategy, reclaiming a historic space to help build a more sustainable future. Just like Henry Ford did in Detroit more than 100 years ago, we’re looking ahead to create solutions that will help us all move forward more easily.

Motor City Homecoming: Why Moving Back to Detroit Strengthens Self-Driving Development was originally published in Self-Driven on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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