Ford taps Silicon Valley startup to build transportation software

The corporate logo of Ford is seen on a billboard at the facilities of the company in Valencia, Venezuela, August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

(Reuters) - Ford Motor Co has begun to develop new transportation service applications using a software platform developed by Autonomic Inc, a small Silicon Valley startup.

One of the first such businesses is a “microtransit” service called Non-Emergency Medical Transport, launched this summer by Ford and Michigan-based Beaumont Hospital. Patients can schedule pickups and appointments from a mobile app that was built on the Autonomic software platform, said Sundeep Madra, Autonomic’s chief executive officer and co-founder.

Vehicle manufacturers are exploring a wide array of digital services to supplement their existing businesses, including ride-hailing, car-sharing and delivery of food and goods. However, when it comes to developing consumer-facing smartphone apps and the data systems behind them, automakers have lagged Silicon Valley rivals.

Ford in the past month has announced partnerships with Domino’s and Lyft, using self-driving vehicles developed by Ford and its Argo affiliate. The Dearborn, Michigan automaker is also experimenting with a service called Chariot that offers access to van rides.

Ford CEO Jim Hackett mentioned the automaker’s investment in Autonomic during a presentation to investors last week. The 15-month-old company is developing “an open platform for transportation” on which Ford plans to build new in-vehicle and mobility-related services with a variety of partners, Hackett said.

If Ford elects to build its own ride-hailing or fleet management businesses, the Autonomic software platform could enable digital payment processing and customer identification, as well as directing the flow of data between the vehicle and the customer, according to a source familiar with the automaker’s plans.

Using the Autonomic software platform as a base, along with data from the vehicles, Ford and its partners then could build and charge consumers for products and services, said Marcy Klevorn, Ford president of mobility.

Klevorn cited FordPass as an earlier example of a software platform that has enabled Ford to provide digital services to subscribers, from parking to payments.

In an investor briefing on Tuesday, Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets, said the most important part of the company’s strategy in self-driving vehicles “is a diverse group of revenue streams . . . not just one revenue stream like ride- hailing, but multiple revenue streams,” including providing digital content to vehicle occupants.

Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Lisa Shumaker