Ford Motor Company, one of the many automakers involved in the self-driving or autonomous vehicle movement, is trying to solve the “last 50-foot” problem; tackling the issue the best it can with a headless robot.
The “last 50-foot” problem is a problem nearly every company will run into if it deals with delivery by self-driving cars. When a company’s self-driving vehicle pulls up to a house, how will its product get to the front door or the last 50 feet with the lack of a human driver?
Ford decided the solution to this problem is a headless robot that will accompany the self-driving vehicle. Ford’s robot known under the name of Digit was created by Agility Robotics, a small startup located in Albany, Oregon. Digit has humanistic features with two sturdy legs, arms that can carry up to a 40-pound load, a torso embedded with a video camera and a headless upper half with a laser-radar sensor. While Digit may have an unorthodox or unappealing look to some, it more than makes up for it in its practicality; featuring a lightweight frame, the readiness to overcome obstacles with its bipedal feature, and the ability to compact itself into a small square for storage purposes.
Even though Digit is in existence, the public will not see this robot until 2021 or later. Ford plans to wait and release it as part of the company’s self-driving vehicle fleet initiative. In the meantime, Ford will continue research on Digit. Specifically, Digit’s acceptance with the general population; starting with real-world tests that involve Digit roaming the organization’s facilities.
This step toward solving the “last 50-foot” problem with robots is gaining momentum, driven by the potential profits self-driving delivery can offer. Without a human driver, delivery costs can decrease immensely, and the financial return could be in the billions. For these possible benefits, companies other than Ford are creating unique delivery robots of their own. Companies such as Anybotics, Continental, Segway, FedEx, and Starship Robots.
In times of advanced technology, self-driving or autonomous vehicles are becoming more of a possibility in the automotive industry. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist (UCS), based on automaker and technology company estimates, level 4 self-driving cars-cars that can drive fully-autonomous in certain driving scenarios-could be for sale in the next several years. With such a possibility, the consulting group Capgemini decided to conduct a survey to gauge consumers expectations; discovering most consumers would appreciate and have a positive attitude toward self-driving cars.
Before analyzing the results of the survey, it is pertinent to understand autonomous vehicles and their current stage of production. Autonomous vehicles are cars or trucks that do not need a driver to operate; using a combination of sensors, and software instead. Each autonomous vehicle can have a certain level of self-automation. Some may only function with heavy driver involvement, contributing little to no automation on the road. Oppositely, others may function with little to no driver involvement with the ability to drive in every kind of traffic situation.
In the current stage of production, there are only partially-autonomous vehicles on the road or on the market today available with systems like automatic braking, cruise control, and lane assistance. Automakers are continuing to improve and produce autonomous vehicles with the available technology of today. Take Bosch, for instance. Bosch, the world’s largest automotive supplier, is partnering with Daimler to create a pilot program in California; spending 4.6 billion by 2022 on the autonomous technology.
Back to the survey, Capgemini polled over 5,500 consumers and 280 automotive executives to not only understand consumer expectation but how automakers are acknowledging them. The survey helped encapsulate the feelings of enthusiasm and hesitation as well as some of the challenges that come with autonomous vehicles.
Here are the key findings from the report:
- Of the respondents 59 percent felt anticipation, 52 percent felt surprise, 48 percent felt fear, 43 percent felt loss of control/helplessness, 32 percent felt trust, 28 percent felt confidence, and 6 percent felt anger when asked what emotion described self-driving vehicles for them.
- The opinion of autonomous cars depends on the country and region. At the moment, the Chinese are the most positive about autonomous cars while Britons are the most negative or skeptical.
- Over half of the participants indicated they would pay more for an autonomous car when they said they would pay a premium of up to 20 percent.
- Self-driving cars will gradually be accepted in a positive light with 52 percent of respondents saying they would ride in a self-driving car in five years.
In the past, the classiness of a car was partially determined by the quality of an owner’s interior. This meant a car showed its worth when the seats were leather, the wide dash was sturdy, and the door panels were uniquely designed with a set pattern. However, that may change with the current transition from carbon fiber to plants.
Several well-known automakers have begun to move away from the usual material used for car interiors to something more eco-conscious and quality condition. These companies include Land Rover, Volvo, Toyota, Hyaundai, Ford, Faraday Future, and Audi. The allure for so many companies to make this change is how the plant interiors satisfy the modern consumers want for luxury as well as their desire to be eco-friendly. This trend of renewable, green materials in the automotive industry will continue to grow as Grand View Research predicts by 2025 synthetic leather will make up a $45 billion industry and the automotive industry will be the second largest in the use of renewable textiles.
There are a number of plant fabrics automakers are using to outfit vehicle interiors. Take, for instance, Range Rover’s use of Eucalyptus Melange and Dinamica Suedecloth on its new Range Rover Evoque. Eucalyptus Melange is a material made of 30 percent of tensile fibers or eucalyptus fibers and 70 percent polyester. It differs from the current customary materials like plastic or Alcantra through its smaller water intake and ability to be dyed any color. The other material, Dinamica Suedecloth, is a fireproof and sturdy imitating suede fabric made of recycled plastic bottles.
In addition to the plant fabrics, automakers are including or planning to add more eco-conscious options. Presently, Toyota has its seat cushions made of renewable sugar cane, Hyundai has its sedan support pillars made of crushed volcanic rock, and Ford has its seat foam made of soybeans. For the future, Volvo plans to have its 2025 models incorporate 25 percent or more of plastics made from recycled materials; exceeding the 5 percent of recycled material plastic used today.
In its first quarter, Fiat Chrysler (FCA) saw a 29 percent decrease; dropping in revenue from 1.07 billion Euros in approximately January or March to 24.5 billion Euros in May. The lack of sales in FCA’s North American profit center, Europe and China is why FCA is seeing such a disappointing first quarter.
Since the start of its first quarter, FCA has had a rough start. To begin with, FCA shipped only 1.037 million vehicles, a 14 percent decrease from the previous year. Beyond the smaller number of cars shipped, the FCA has had trouble in its North American, European, and Chinese market.
In North America, which makes up 98 percent of the company’s profits, sales are slowly but surely dissipating with the operating profit margin falling from 7.4 percent to 6.5 percent in the initial months of 2018 and deliveries falling by 3 percent. This drop in the U.S. puts them behind FCA’s North American rivals, General Motors, and Ford Motor Co. FCA activities have also been fruitless in its other two markets with China experiencing economic decline and Europe facing stricter emission regulation; causing any FCA activities to have little to no impact.
Despite this concerning roadblock, FCA remains optimistic. According to the company, it still expects to earn 6.7 billion Euros prior to interest and taxes for the 2019 sales year. The current FCA CEO Mike Manley in the face of these problems has devised plans for each respective market. For China, Manley intends to do a turnaround; reorganizing FCA’s Chinese joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. through new leadership and through combining its sales operations. For Europe, Manley plans on preparing for the new emission regulations; preparing to spend $2 billion on regulatory emissions credits over the next few years to ensure all of FCA’s new plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles pass expectation.