Ford’s Autonomic Connects EV Maker Ayro to Its Mobility Cloud
Ford subsidiary Autonomic today announced a step forward in its drive to expand the online mobility hub it built to manage digital interactions among cars, drivers, fleets, service providers, and auto manufacturers—including Ford’s rivals.
Palo Alto, CA-based Autonomic signed up Ayro, an electric vehicle startup, as a paying customer of its Transportation Mobility Cloud (TMC), in Autonomic’s first partnership with a vehicle manufacturer other than Dearborn, MI-based Ford (NYSE: F).
Ayro, based north of Austin in Round Rock, TX, makes a line of compact battery-powered cars, pickups, and three-wheeled runabouts. The startup sells the vehicles for use in fleets that serve college campuses, resorts, corporate complexes, and similar sites. The vehicles are legal for street driving, but their maximum speed is 50 miles per hour.
Linking Ayro’s vehicles to Autonomic’s TMC quickly opened up possibilities for fleets to better manage their vehicles—and also some ways for fleets to make money, says Ayro chief operating officer Bruce Riggs.
For example, the TMC can convey a message to tourists, as they drive a resort’s fleet vehicle, that the restaurant up ahead is offering dinner discounts. If the tourists take up the offer, the restaurant rewards the resort fleet with a bounty payment.
While Ayro makes low-speed vehicles, the startup has set a fast pace for the commercialization of its entirely new vehicle line. Founded in November of 2017, Ayro debuted its first vehicle in 2018, and by May this year it had signed a contract to manufacture its four-wheeled vehicles for Augusta, GA-based Club Car, a veteran maker of golf carts and other light-duty vehicles.
The vehicles Ayro has already manufactured still number only in the hundreds. But Autonomic co-founder and CEO Gavin Sherry says his company will seek to grow the number of Ayro vehicles linked to the TMC as it helps the young company explore the digital connections it can make. Sherry says the partnership with Ayro aligns the Transportation Mobility Cloud with a promising trend: low-emission electric vehicles fit well with a growing desire among cities, retailers, colleges, and other institutions to restrict traffic flow in congested areas while also reducing the environmental impact of transportation.
“I personally feel that this will be a growing investment area,’’ Sherry says.
Ayro’s customer Club Car began making electric vehicles itself back in 2010. Sherry also pointed to Medina MN-based Polaris (NYSE: PII), a pioneer snowmobile manufacturer that has also branched out into other sport and utility lines, including its GEM series of compact electric vehicles.
Autonomic would welcome Polaris and other EV makers into the TMC fold, Sherry says. The company doesn’t form exclusive partnerships, but it’s hoping to advance the development of connected electric vehicles through its early partnership with Ayro, he says.
Plugging into a transportation software hub
Ayro COO Riggs says the company has added extra radio frequency connections to its vehicles to adapt them for increased digital communication. That includes a 4G link to Autonomic, which will process data flowing from the vehicles in its cloud-based TMC, which draws on the computing and data storage resources of Amazon Web Services (AWS). This fleet data management service will allow Ayro to do things such as flagging vehicles whose travel range is lower than average after a battery recharge. Then the trouble can be diagnosed and fixed, he says.
With these hardware modifications, Ayro vehicles can now communicate with drivers’ devices through a Bluetooth connection, while e-commerce messages flow through another radio channel, Riggs says. Through the TMC, Ayro will be able to load new software into the vehicles, and impose travel restrictions in real time. For example, a car could be programmed to stay on footpaths within certain parts of a campus; to avoid an area recently flooded; and keep its speed below 15 miles per hour.
Food delivery is one of the tasks suited for Ayro’s smallest vehicle, the 311, and the TMC can link the three-wheeled runabout (pictured above) to route planning apps that calculate the best trajectory to keep the food fresh, Riggs says. The 311 sells for about $10,000 to $14,000, depending on the features chosen by the buyer. Ayro’s lightweight vehicles can recharge in six to eight hours when plugged into a standard 110-volt outlet in a garage or on a porch.
Aside from Ayro, Autonomic has not yet announced another partnership with an automaker. But thousands of Avis rental cars are connected to its TMC under a 2018 agreement with Ford. Vehicles from any manufacturer can tap into the TMC if they belong to a fleet that forms a partnership with Autonomic.
“There are currently several million vehicles on the platform with more being connected daily,’’ Sherry says.
Autonomic’s partnership with Japanese information and communication technology company Fujitsu could bring more vehicles into the TMC orbit, Sherry says. Autonomic is pairing its TMC with Fujitsu’s expertise in systems integration for automakers, to provide a combined service to Ford that will later be offered to other vehicle manufacturers.
Autonomic is also working with outside developers including RideOS and Swarm Technologies, to link customers with new features through the TMC. Swarm Technologies operates a satellite network to expand the reach of low-cost connectivity to remote regions. RideOS is developing a ride-hailing platform, a fleet planning app, and a routing engine to direct the movements of driverless cars.
Last year, Autonomic formed a partnership with Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing division of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA), to create a standardized mobility hub for transportation-related companies in China.
According to a Bloomberg report cited by Autonomic, more than two million electric vehicles were sold worldwide in 2018, and global annual electric passenger vehicle sales are projected to reach 10 million in 2025. The forces behind the growth trend include tighter emissions regulations and falling battery prices.
The rise of electric vehicles, and the fragmentation of transportation options into geo-fenced regions such as university campuses, are trends Sherry sees developing in China, the world’s largest auto market, and in other parts of the world.
“Our aim is pairing the TMC to market trends—things that are true today and will be into the future,” Sherry says. “One thing we know is that electric vehicles will increase.”
Photo courtesy of Ayro