Ford, Google Teaming Up On Cloud, Next-Gen Automotive Infotainment

As in other industries, many of the world’s automakers are forming alliances with key technology providers to provide cloud computing services and access to digital assistant platforms. Ford is no exception with its announcement that it has signed a six-year agreement with Google
. Starting later in 2021, the automaker will take advantage of the Google Cloud Platform. New Ford and Lincoln vehicles will also use Android Automotive to power infotainment from 2023. 

Several other automakers including Volvo, Stellantis, Renault and General Motors
have already adopted Android Automotive. Android Automotive is a variant of the operating system originally designed for smartphones that has been optimized for use in vehicles. Like the mobile device version, companies that use Android Automotive can develop their own user interfaces on top of the open-source operating system and they also have the option to include Google apps. 

On mobile devices, Google has a bundle of apps including Gmail, Chrome, Maps, Google Assistant and the Google Play app store that it calls Google Mobile Services (GMS). A comparable bundle known as Google Automotive Services (GAS) is available for use in vehicles. Unlike the base operating system, GMS and GAS are closed-source proprietary apps that must be licensed by the manufacturer. 

Stellantis recently launched its Android Automotive-based Uconnect 5 system on the Chrysler Pacifica but chose not to use GAS, instead selecting TomTom for maps, Amazon
Alexa for the voice assistant. Like Volvo and GM, Ford will be utilizing GAS in its Android-based infotainment including the cloud-connected Assistant. Previous in-vehicle voice recognition systems have been inherently limited in capability by the limited computing power available in the car. Systems like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple
Siri are able to leverage the power of cloud computing to provide something much closer to natural language processing. Since vehicles in motion can easily lose connectivity, a local sub-set of the capabilities is also kept on-board the vehicle as a backup. 

With electrification also becoming more common, being able to find charging stations and plan routes to minimize disruption and delays will be crucial to improving the experience for EV drivers. Google recently announced a new feature within its automotive maps platform that uses graph theory to optimize route planning. With knowledge of the vehicle battery state of charge, type of charging connector and the destination as well as real-time data on charging station status, the system can help to reduce the friction for EV adoption. 

Currently, Ford drivers that want to access apps running on their smartphones have to control them through either Apple Carplay, Android Auto or Ford’s Sync Applink. The new system will have the Google Play app store embedded so that compatible apps can be installed directly to the vehicle, reducing the complexity of setup. While Android apps will be able to run directly from the infotainment system, Apple iPhone users will still be taken care of. Just as with other Android Automotive systems, Carplay will continue to be supported. Ford also plans to continue support for Sync AppLink which allows compatible smartphone apps to be controlled from the infotainment interface. 

Outside of the vehicle, Ford will be moving many backend services to the Google Cloud Platform. Manufacturing and supply chain management and product development applications will be moving to the Google Cloud. Ford also wants to improve the customer experience using cloud services. One of the areas where this will likely have an impact is in the automated driving business that is scheduled to launch in 2022. 

Tracking and dispatching automated vehicles and collecting data will be essential to building a viable transportation as a service business. In robotaxis, the services available to riders in the vehicles will also be key to differentiating the product from other services since the actual ride should be relatively the same across all providers. Providing riders with access to streaming services or mobile broadband connectivity as well as digital assistant services can distinguish Ford’s services from Cruise or Zoox which are utilizing Microsoft
and Amazon respectively. 

Google’s expertise in machine learning and artificial intelligence has been identified as one of the key drivers for Ford’s selection of Google Cloud. Ford and Google are establishing a group called Team Upshift with members from both companies that will be responsible for co-developing new applications and services and handling the migration to Google Cloud. Ford plans to use Google Cloud in most global markets except for China where Google currently doesn’t operate.  The Google-Ford deal is also not exclusive with the automaker reserving the right to use other cloud providers even outside of China.