Ford Buys Autonomic, TransLoc as It Rolls Toward Autonomous Future

The mobility sector’s mergers and acquisitions continue at a furious pace, the latest being Ford’s announcement this week that it bought TransLoc and Autonomic, two startups it had been partnering with as part of its efforts to get self-driving cars on the road. The terms of the deals weren’t disclosed, but one of the acquisitions has roots in a 2016 investment Ford made in Pivotal, a Silicon Valley startup that launched in 2013 with 1,250 employees and a valuation of more than $1 billion.

In March, Axios reported that Ford made a strategic investment in Autonomic, a stealth Silicon Valley startup founded in 2016. At that time, not much was known about Autonomic other than that it was developing artificial intelligence software related to autonomous vehicles. According to Axios, Autonomic’s founders were previously at Pivotal, which is likely how they came to have a relationship with Ford.

At CES earlier this month, Ford said it was working with Autonomic on building its Transportation Mobility Cloud, a smart city platform municipalities can use to coordinate communication between driverless vehicles and connected infrastructure, such as traffic lights. Ford’s eventual goal is to have its partners, including LyftPostmates, and Domino’s, plug into its autonomous fleet and use the cars for delivery or ride-hailing services. As part of the acquisition deal, Autonomic CEO Sunny Madra will lead Ford X, the company’s new skunkworks project to incubate internal innovations before rolling them out to the world.

TransLoc, based in Durham, NC, works in the area of microtransit, which refers to for-profit transportation services for commuters that are usually sold as being more comfortable and convenient than traditional public transit. TransLoc is developing the technologies that power microtransit’s real-time tracking, demand prediction, and response analysis, as well as the associated consumer-facing mobile apps. Ford has indicated it wants to go deeper into the commuter transportation business, with plans to expand its Chariot van and non-emergency medical transport services, and will presumably incorporate TransLoc’s technology into that effort.

In other Ford news this week, Reuters reports the automaker saw lower-than-expected profits for the fourth quarter of 2017, with analysts voicing frustration over a lack of “specific details on how the company intends to rebuild profits in its core automotive business.” But with autonomous vehicles and mobility services expected to become a trillion-dollar industry in less than a generation, perhaps its core automotive business is not what’s driving the company’s future strategy.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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