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Ford's Marakby says computing power key to self-driving success

Marakby: Self-driving vehicles will likely appear first in U.S. cities with relatively good weather.

DETROIT — Computing power.

Sherif Marakby, the head of Ford’s electrified and self-driving vehicle development, said one of the big challenges in developing fully autonomous vehicles is getting enough computing power to support them.

“It’s pretty significant,” Marakby said Monday at a conference hosted by the Original Equipment Suppliers Association. “It’s going to be one of the fundamental enablers to getting autonomous vehicles to operate in just about every environment. To go from Level 4 to Level 5 — the ability to drive anywhere in any condition — requires sensing technology, but it also requires computing technology.”

Ford plans to introduce a Level 4 self-driving vehicle in 2021. It’s expected to operate within previously mapped geofenced areas for commercial purposes such as ride-hailing or package delivery.

But once Level 5 vehicles, which can operate outside geofenced areas, hit the road, Marakby said the vehicles will need to be able to compute large amounts of data related to their surroundings. That can happen both on board the vehicle and in the cloud.

Marakby’s comments Monday echoed CEO Jim Hackett, who said last week that Ford was in the “business of computing.” Hackett has described Ford’s work as developing “smart vehicles for a smart world.”

Practically speaking, the automaker is in the process of adding modem connectivity to all of its models by 2019. It’s also working to allow vehicles to communicate with one another and roadside infrastructure.

Marakby on Monday also offered hints at where Ford might deploy its self-driving vehicles. He said they’re likely to appear first in U.S. cities with relatively good weather.

Ford has been testing autonomous cars in California, Arizona and Michigan. Last year, it became the first to test in ice and snow at the Mcity test site in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The automaker expects that self-driving cars will represent 5 percent of new-vehicle sales in 2025, growing to 20 percent by 2030.

Marakby said Ford is looking to cash in on a portion of the $ 5.4 trillion transportation services industry and will look to offer things such as autonomous car fleet management or telematics systems.

He said there are numerous opportunities for Ford to develop partnerships with suppliers, and he doesn’t envision that traditional part of the automotive business going away.

“I see very little change in terms of being able to provide quality components and sensors,” Marakby said. “I see that relationship continuing.”

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