Ford CEO Mark Fields showcased a new partnership with Amazon that will help keep vehicles connected to their smart homes of the future. Ford's third-generation SYNC connectivity system will connect with Amazon's Echo voice-recognition system. Through this, homeowners can ask Alexa to do things like start their cars and evaluate their electric range. From the road, they can ask Alexa to open their garage doors when they're a few blocks from home.
In other developments, Ford said it expected to triple its autonomous fleet of Fusion hybrids by the end of 2016 and test them in California, Arizona, and Michigan. One thing Fields did not say? That the company would partner with tech giant Google on these developments.
Reports last week indicated the automaker was set to partner with Google on an autonomous program. Fields said Tuesday he would not comment on that "speculation." But he wouldn't rule out a potential partnership either. "We have said going forward, as we provide mobility solutions, in some cases we'll do things alone, and in some cases we'll partner with others," said Fields, noting Ford has opened a research center in Palo Alto.
He outlined a broader goal of producing affordable self-driving cars that would be accessible for "millions of customers," not just luxury-car buyers. Fields says he believes the auto industry is on track to put Level 4 autonomous cars – those that can deliver autonomous driving in many, but not all driving scenarios – on the road by 2020.
At CES, Ford also announced a push to develop a drone-to-vehicle communication system that would potentially assist the United Nations in assessing damage in emergency zones. Drones would deploy from the bed of F150 pickups, survey damaged areas and communicate real-time information to the SNYC connected system. Future applications could include agriculture, forestry, bridge inspection and other work, according to the company.