Ford Smart Mobility CEO: Mobility of data as important as security

Ford plans to deliver a high-volume, fully autonomous vehicle for ride sharing in 2021.

From the (parent) car company that just announced a ringtone emulating the signature growl of a Ford Mustang comes the promise of a car company more tuned into mobility and connectedness than ever before.

“We feel that automotive companies will continue to evolve and look less like automotive companies and more as companies that are connected with today’s tech cycle,” Raj Rao, CEO of Ford Smart Mobility (FSM), said during an online webinar Wednesday.

In terms of cybersecurity, Rao declined to comment specifically on connectivity to vehicles, referencing some of the famous hacking scenarios, but on another level, “in FSM, we are in partnership with some of the larger tech companies” that are putting data in the cloud and maintaining it with Ford.

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While FSM wants to safeguard data and prevent it from getting into the wrong hands, it doesn’t want to do that in a way that makes data unavailable to share.

“Our purpose is to make data safe to share and make that data more valuable because of sharing,” he said. “I think it’s one thing to say can we protect all that data and prevent someone from accessing it. We want to continue doing that but we also want to answer the second question, which is OK, if you’re doing that really well, how do you make that data shareable, so other participants have permission to access that data and collaborate on that data that it’s done in a way that’s safeguarded as well."

“I think the mobility of data is just as important as the security of data and we’re working a lot on making that data secure as it moves through a value chain,” he said.

Ford announced last month that it is investing $200 million for another advanced data center to support the company’s expansion to an auto and a mobility company. It is the second of two new data centers Ford is building in Michigan, as the company expects its data usage to increase 1,000%—driven by manufacturing and business needs and new mobility services, such as more connected, autonomous and electrified vehicles.

The second new data center will be located at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan, where the company is investing $700 million and adding 700 direct new jobs—announced in January—to create a factory capable of producing high-tech electrified and autonomous vehicles.

FSM was created just over a year ago to act like a startup, with operations in both Palo Alto, California, and Dearborn, Michigan. Rao was named CEO last September; his background includes a stint as VP of digital business model innovation at 3M, where he led the company’s internet of things projects. Earlier in his career he co-created Redberri, an open source XML-based middleware system for connecting systems not originally designed to talk to each other, and he holds several patents for Vivo, a wireless fitness management product.  

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Rao discussed the need to have a deeper involvement with cities and the importance of engaging with stakeholders like transportation, transit and city planning departments, but he wasn’t asked about the specific technologies that will be used to connect everything.

Ford is a member of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which has been an advocate for Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication technology using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) that operates within the 5.9 GHz band. 

Ford has said it’s making progress toward its goal of having a high-volume, fully autonomous vehicle for ride-sharing or ride-handling services starting in 2021.