There have been lots of stories in the last year about the move to edge computing. The argument goes that with something like an autonomous vehicle, you can’t afford the latency to go to the cloud to get an answer and feed it back to the car. It would take too long to get a response, and likely arrive too late. Enter computing at the edge to handle requests much more quickly.

The implication has been that as computing moves to the edge, it will begin to edge out the cloud as the primary form of computing. The cloud will still exist as a place to share, store and process data coming off of the edge devices, but it won’t be the go-to form of computing that is has been.

The cloud will still have a big role though if people like Ford executive chairman Bill Ford are right. In an interview with Fortune, Ford discussed some of the challenges of having autonomous vehicles. There are of course the technology challenges and the ethical ones, but there are also logistical ones.

Ford told Fortune that in order to have autonomous cars at scale, it will require building smart cities. It’s interesting to note that just this week Malaysia announced that it had chosen Alibaba’s smart city platform for the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. The service is called “City Brain” and it relies on artificial intelligence and big data and is built on Alibaba’s infrastructure as a service. 

Beefing up city transportation

But Ford also made a couple of moves by scooping up a pair of startups, Autotnomic and TransLoc, that could help contribute to building those smart cities. Specifically, the two companies help cities in managing transportation of all kinds, which could come in handy in managing fleets of autonomous vehicles at some point.

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Autonomic is building a cloud-based transportation network with the goal of connecting all kinds of transportation to create what they call “smart mobility.” In the company’s words (via its website), “It is a flexible and secure platform that provides the necessary building blocks for smart mobility applications, such as routing self-driving cars, managing large-scale fleets or helping residents plan transit journeys.”

You can see how that fits in with Ford’s vision of smarter cities, which use data, artificial intelligence and cloud services to provide cities with more intelligent traffic routing for all concerned.

As for Transloc, it is a service for public transportation organizations to bring more modern approaches to their transit systems through building, testing and deploying new systems and seeing what works.

Both of these services are designed to build a more modern transportation ecosystem. If Ford is right, the future could involve using the cloud when it plays to its strengths such as for smart city infrastructure and computing at the edge for the autonomous vehicles when it requires it. 

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Photo: zombieite on Flickr. Used under CC by 2.0 license.

Posted by Ron Miller

Ron Miller is a freelance technology reporter and blogger. He is contributing editor at EContent Magazine and enterprise reporter at TechCrunch.

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