Ford Motor Company presented the City of Tomorrow Symposium in San Francisco: a day-long event featuring leaders exploring how to best shape the future of our cities.
Ford Motor Company is in a remarkable position as the 21st century proceeds. Looking and acting less like a century-old car company and more like a lean startup, Ford assembled in San Francisco for its City of Tomorrow Symposium, a one-day event to explore the environments, the transportation, and the technology that is informing the city of tomorrow. Ford cast a wide net in terms of speakers and approaches for the symposium, considering everything from autonomous vehicles to the energy demands.
Ford has thrown itself in the center of the ring when it comes to investment in these sectors. Last year, Ford acquired Chariot, a crowd-sourcing shuttle company that complements the existing public transit network in the Bay Area. Ford also collaborated with Motivate to develop Ford GoBikes, on a bike-sharing program, which will grow from 700 bicycles to 7,000 in the Bay Area this year. Those might seem like surface-level [Sorry for the infrastructure joke -editor] commitments, but Ford has since introduced its City Solutions team, which is an in-house team actively working with global cities to examine the problems they’re facing. It’s Ford’s own discoveries that have given the symposium it’s grounded approach. Conversations about the future are no longer what-if explorations with unlimited budgets and endless timelines. Ford determined that cities are real places with pressing issues and finite amounts of money work with. The symposium serves as a baseline for that conversation. Here are some of our highlights:
Marcy Klevorn, President of Mobility at Ford, put Ford’s mission and purpose of the symposium into terms that made sense and, in hindsight, framed the day: It’s time to understand transportation is a utility, not a private luxury. Transportation should be as easy and as accessible as possible, to as many people as possible. The city of tomorrow is far more than simply the transportation around it.
The day proceeded with a opening remark from none other than Ford CEO Jim Hackett, who has arguably lead Ford to where it is today- far more than a simple car company. His initiatives have moved Ford to an enviable position: strong global sales, a newly unified brand, a cutting-edge lineup of automobiles packed with technology, and a well-rounded investment interest.
This was followed by a keynote speech by Janette Sadik-Khan, of Bloomberg Associates. We go in-depth here, but she introduced some real-world examples of how the city of tomorrow is happening today. It was great to see her socializing with attendees during the evening cocktail hour.
Autonomous In The City served as the first in a number of panels, exploring the implications of autonomous driving on all sides of the conversation, from the public sector, the developer, to the watchdogs and research centers. The panel involved Rebecca Lindland, Kelley Blue Book; Karina Ricks, City of Pittsburgh; Bryan Salesky, Argo AI; Shin-pei Tsay, Gehl Institute. Read more about it here.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked issues in the city is one of the most pervasive: supply-chain. If anything contributes to city chaos, it’s the towering box trucks that clog the streets. For businesses, few things are more complicated and expensive than what is known as the “last mile” of the delivery process. Often, it requires a very tailored approach, sometimes down to the very street the parcel is being delivered to. This compelling panel explored all the ways that delivery can be transformed in the city of tomorrow- from what consumers expect from delivery service to the very vehicles that make it happen- from parcel drones to wheeled robots coexisting with humans. This panel included Anne Goodchild, University of Washington; Daphne Carmeli, Deliv; Laura Richards, DC Department of Transportation; Kevin Vasconi, Domino’s Pizza.
Self-driving vehicles could improve how we live, yet 75 percent of Americans don’t believe the technology is safe. This fact has caused the biggest trouble when marketing self-driving vehicles to the public. During an afternoon panel, Gimlet Media founder Alex Blumberg lead a session on the human side of getting autonomous vehicles on the road – exploring how auto and tech companies can build trust with consumers. Seline Pan, of the Ford Research & Innovation Center, considered how the industrial design of automobiles can be improved to help people feel more comfortable around them. There is nothing more alienating than being told that driving requires full attention, only to introduce AV which require minimal. It goes against generations of understanding. To Derek Koehler, it’s about perception: how can we perceive things differently. We have no less control in an AV vehicle than we would in an aircraft or even a bus driven by someone else. Heidi Braunstein’s company is actively building simulations for enterprise and consumers so the transition into AV is that much easier.
Midday was broken up by an incredible mediation experience lead by the team that brings The Big Quiet, Jesse Israel and Lauren Bille. They invited attendees to relax and socialize in a safe space, while the hustle and bustle of the symposium hall became beautiful white noise. This kind of self-care is essential in the city of tomorrow, as lives become more intimate and socializing becomes more frequent.
The symposium (which Ford CEO Jim Hackett asked to do again next year) was a success in that it finally brought the conversation on the future to the ground. It’s honesty was refreshing, it’s awareness of real limits (law, time, money) was essential in making the experience worthwhile. Too often, conversations around the future are full of uncertainty and inconsistent values. Here, the creation of the future is taking place now. Smart minds can create the future today.