In a blog post, Ford announced that they are seriously looking into drones as an addition to their product portfolio. The post covers two concepts: using the anti-collision lights of drones for identification purposes which we covered here, and a customizable UAV development platform. We will look into the second one in more detail in this post.

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What if all we do is sell more cars and trucks?

Many years ago, Bill Ford said:

“I’ve worked at Ford for 30 years, and for most of those years we’ve worried about how to sell more cars and trucks. But now I worry about something entirely different: What if all we do is sell more cars and trucks?”

How about drones? Would it make sense for the car manufacturer to add drones to their product portfolio?

The car manufacturer’s curiosity into unmanned aerial vehicles is mainly driven by John Luo, Research Manager, Emerging Technology Integration, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering; and Adi Singh, Principal Scientist, Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering who have recognized that Ford’s customers are starting to use drones to get the job done just like they use cars and trucks.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has estimated that the current 1.9 million small, hobbyist drones may swell to a staggering 4.3 million by 2020. When you include commercially used unmanned aerial vehicles, this number rises to 7 million units. No wonder Ford is starting to look into drones to complement their commercial vehicles.

Ford is working pro-actively with the FAA

Ford was the only car manufacturer that participated on the FAA’s Aviation Rulemaking Committee. Last week during the FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Symposium, Ford presented a plan to use the anti-collision LED lights on drones to broadcast the FAA registration code to local law enforcement officials. However, Ford does not want to stop there.

Ford’s UAV Systems group in Palo Alto is researching where people’s use of drones intersect with the use of their vehicles. To that effect, Ford has developed a customizable drone platform that allows researchers to quickly adjust the aerial vehicle to quickly test how drones and vehicles could work together such as during a survey. According to Ford:

“The platform offers modular, modifiable baseline capabilities required in a UAV — a flight controller, onboard computer, a parametrized form factor, and so on — that allow anyone to test concepts without the need to become experts on the nitty-gritty of drone development. At once, our platform allows iterative testing and development of hardware, software, electrical, material, structural and user interface design concepts. A platform like this gives engineering teams across Ford a stable operational tool so they can focus on the unique capability they want to test instead of the practical challenge of building a UAV system from scratch. Engineers can tweak and test form factors, weight distribution or other sub-systems without having to start over with a new drone.”

Ford says that in the future they will make it an open source platform so that others can benefit from it as well. The car company foresees such an important role for drones as part of their customers’ lifestyles, whether it is for hobby or even business purposes, that they would like to leverage their transportation expertise in laying the groundwork for drone technology and make sure that their vehicles are ready for a world in which drones will be commonplace.

What do you think about Ford’s drone initiative? Do you think they should stick to their bread and butter and focus on making more and better (electric) cars and trucks?

Or do you think that Ford is smart to consider drones in their portfolio and that the other car manufacturers will get left behind if they don’t get on board soon? Let us know in the comments below.

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