Jan 9, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Hi once more from CES in Las Vegas. I had a busy day yesterday and I'm excited to share some of it with you.

1 big thing: Ford ready for some bumps in AV road

One of Ford's self-driving test vehicles on the streets of Washington, D.C. Photo: Ford

Ford will continue its push toward "mobility" to position itself as a key player in autonomous vehicles, even as the traditional car industry seems headed for a down cycle and the realistic timeframe for AVs is being moved back, several company executives tell me at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Why it matters: Though Ford still gets most of its revenue selling personal vehicles, the company sees a world where people rely on a much wider mix of transportation modes. To transform itself for its AV goals, Ford has made a range of acquisitions and has brought more of its technology development in-house.

Driving the news: Ford's actions include buying the private bus startup Chariot and a scooter business called Spin. It's also hiring more engineers to develop more technology in-house, including self-driving capabilities and the next version of its Sync navigation/entertainment system.

The Spin purchase is a recognition that micro-vehicles of some sort will be an important part of the "first mile" and "last mile" of transit, even if they ultimately take a somewhat different form, EVP Marcy Klevorn tells Axios.

  • Spin was of particular interest to Ford, Klevorn adds, because it was working with cities, not just dumping scooters on sidewalks like some rivals.
  • This approach will be key to self-driving cars as well, she says.

In-house technology will help Ford meet competition from tech giants Google and Apple, Ford CTO Ken Washington tells Axios.

  • Ford is doubling down on a bet it can out-innovate the tech giants, so it has brought more engineering in-house for its Sync entertainment and navigation system.
  • Systems like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that work only when a compatible phone is brought in the car and a user chooses such an interface are fine. But the company says it has no interest in giving the companies a larger, more permanent place.

Ford expects the timeframe of AV arrivals will be longer than the most optimistic estimates.

  • "The promises of launching autonomous vehicles without a driver in 2018 and 2019 are fading fast," Ford VP Sherif Marakby tells Axios.
  • Marakby says 2021 is a more realistic timeframe for AVs at scale.

The big picture: Ford's rivals are also making big bets, albeit with different approaches.

Yes, but: One thing that the company won't be doing, as I scooped yesterday, is moving forward with sponsorship of the Ford GoBike bicycle-sharing service in San Francisco. Ford and Lyft, which now own the startup that runs the multi-city bike-sharing service, plan to end the deal over the next couple of months.

Go deeper

2. Health is Apple's next really big thing

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

With all the TV maker partnerships Apple announced at CES, plus its earlier content deals, it's clear that video service is Apple's next big thing. But as Apple CEO Tim Cook made clear in a CNBC interview Tuesday, transforming consumer health is Apple's next really big thing.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure Apple's video plans are significant. Otherwise it wouldn't be writing giant checks to content providers like Oprah and Sesame Workshop. And it certainly wouldn't be partnering with rivals like Samsung and LG.

In the not too distant future, we will likely get the full picture as Apple launches its new video service. Augmented reality and autonomy are also areas where Apple is placing bets.

But it's clear that it is Apple's work in health care has Cook most excited.

"If you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, 'What was Apple's greatest contribution to mankind?' It will be about health. ... We are democratizing it. We are taking what has been with the institutions and empowering the individual to manage their health."
— Tim Cook, to CNBC

Flashback: He talked with similar enthusiasm when Axios' Mike Allen and I met with him last year for our Axios on HBO interview.

Why it matters: Apple desperately needs its next act, as its recent earnings warning makes clear. The smartphone market has matured to the point where the innovations are more incremental and that isn't where Apple shines.

The bottom line: Actions speak louder than words. But, Apple has already invested years to understand tech and build relationships with hospitals, doctors and regulators. Those are things, unlike a new app or phone feature, that are hard for rivals to quickly duplicate.

  • Apple's work has already shown up in modest ways, like: its fitness research lab, the ResearchKit that allows its products to be used in clinical studies, and the electrocardiogram in the latest Apple Watch.

The last word: As Cook told CNBC, "We're just at the front end of this."

3. Trying out Samsung's exoskeleton robot

Axios' Ina Fried tries on Samsung's hip-augmenting exoskeleton robot. Photo: Axios

After writing about Samsung's robots earlier this week, I got to try out one of the exoskeleton prototypes yesterday. Samsung has three models, assisting the knees, ankles and hips.

My experience: I got to put on the one that helps with the hips. I could definitely feel a little boost, if not fully appreciate the 23% energy savings Samsung says the device offers. But I suspect the impact would be felt more by someone who struggles with their gait in ways I thankfully do not yet.

Where it stands: The robots aren't commercially ready in any case. So, if you want to see them in action, you might want to check out the video here. (Sorry for all the background noise.)

4. Not all federal officials skipped CES

The FBI's booth at CES 2019. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

With Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao now out, it's true that the most high-ranking government officials are all taking a pass on this year's CES.

But, not everyone on the federal payroll is skipping Las Vegas. I did manage to find an FBI booth staffed by a real agent. The agency is there, in part, to recruit tech companies for a public-private project called InfraGard, billed as "an alliance for national infrastructure protection."

It was also handing out its handy pamphlet: "Counterintelligence concerns for trade shows and industry events."

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • CES continues, of course. I'm moderating a panel on 6G (yes, I apologize) as well as doing an on-stage interview on digital health with an executive from Johnson & Johnson.
  • Also continuing is the FTC case against Qualcomm, which is being heard in a federal courtroom in San Jose, California (at least as long as they can afford to keep the lights on).

Trading Places

  • Apple has hired Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook employee who had criticized Facebook's data-sharing policies before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, according to FT. (Fast Co.)

ICYMI

  • Bobbi Swan, a pioneer in drones and gender identity, died just after Christmas at 88. Her story is worth reading. (San Diego Union-Tribune)
  • As it battles Amazon's Alexa for a place in all manner of consumer electronics, Google announced new features for its Assistant, including flight check-in and automatic language translation. It is also bringing the Assistant to new places, including the Google Maps app. (The Verge)
6. After you Login

It takes natural skill and years of hard work to become a top athlete. But once again it turns out that all it takes is a big heart to be a true star.

Ina Fried