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Ford Seeks Out Software to Connect Drones With F-150s

Automaker Announces Tech Contest at CES

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Next time a devastating tsunami or earthquake strikes, Ford Motor Co. wants the rapid-response vehicle to be an F-150 pickup with a drone in back.

Today at a press conference here, Ford announced a $100,000 prize for the developer who builds the best software allowing drones to communicate with Ford's vehicles using the company's AppLink and OpenXC interfaces. The goal is to enable first responders from the United Nations to drive a truck as far as possible into a disaster zone, then deploy the drones to survey otherwise unreachable hard-hit areas.

"There is an opportunity to make a big difference with vehicles and drones working together for a common good," Ford r&d director Ken Washington said in a statement ahead of the press conference, timed to coincide with the CES technology fair.

Ford is working with China-based DJI, the world's top manufacturer of civilian drones, on the project. DJI reportedly sold 400,000 of its drones, which range from $500 to several thousand dollars, in 2014.

Last month, multiple news outlets, including Automotive News, reported that Ford was close to a partnership with Google on self-driving cars.

Speaking at Ford's press conference this morning, CEO Mark Fields would neither confirm nor deny those reports. He did say, however, that Ford is quite interested in the idea of on-demand, pay-as-you-go autonomous vehicles, which Google sees as the most promising use of its software.

"Our strategy is very simple: we want to grow our share of our core business, and we also want to grow our share of what I'll call the emerging mobility services market," MR. Fields told reporters. "Whether we do it on our own in some cases or whether we partner with others, we're going to do it in a way that creates value for the company, satisfies the customer, and enhances our brand."

Mr. Fields said that some business models, such as mere contract manufacturing for another technology company, "are things we're not interested in."

Mr. Fields also announced today that Ford will add 20 test vehicles to its fleet of autonomous Fusion Hybrids in 2016, bringing the total to 30. Testing is already underway in Michigan, and will soon commence in California, where Ford was granted a testing permit in December.

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