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Ford announces Smart Mobility plan; 25 initial projects

At CES, Ford CEO Mark Fields announced “Ford Smart Mobility”—a plan to use innovation to take Ford to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience and big data. The initial step is the creation of 25 mobility experiments across the globe designed to help change the way the world moves.

Smart Mobility builds upon Ford’s Blueprint for Mobility (earlier post). As outlined by Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford in his keynote at the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Blueprint for Mobility defines the start of Ford’s thinking on what transportation will look like in 2025 and beyond, and the technologies, business models and partnerships needed to get there.

“To be clear, our priority at Ford is not in making marketing claims or being in a race for the first autonomous car on the road. Our priority is in making the first Ford autonomous vehicle accessible to the masses and truly enhancing our customers’ lives.”
—Mark Fields

In his CES talk, Fields said that rapidly advancing connectivity; software and sensor technology; and big data were the enablers behind the Smart Mobility projects—eight in North America, nine in Europe and Africa, seven in Asia and one in South America.

The 25 experiments address four global megatrends—explosive population growth; an expanding middle class; air quality and public health concerns; and changing customer attitudes and priorities—challenging today’s transportation model and limiting personal mobility, especially in urban areas. The initial set of 25 projects fall into three categories:

  • Creating a better customer experience.
  • Developing more flexible user-ship models for customers.
  • Connecting with every customer in a socially collaborative and rewarding way.

We see a world where vehicles talk to one another, drivers and vehicles communicate with the city infrastructure to relieve congestion, and people routinely share vehicles or multiple forms of transportation for their daily commute. The experiments we’re undertaking today will lead to an all-new model of transportation and mobility within the next 10 years and beyond.

—Mark Fields

Fourteen of the 25 experiments are Ford-led research projects, and 11 are part of the company’s Innovate Mobility Challenge Series. The 14 Ford-led projects include:

Better customer experience. This revolves around learning more about how customers go about their day using their car—the car learning from driver behavior, driving style, plus factors like traffic and weather. Projects include:

  1. Big Data Drive, Dearborn, Michigan.Ford is working with more than 200 employee volunteers to capture data produced from their vehicles using the OpenXC plug-in device. Open XC is Ford’s open-source research platform that gives developers access to vehicle data that can be used to develop hardware and software solutions to improve the mobility experience.

    Fields noted that today’s cars produce a massive amount of data—upwards of 25 gigabytes of information per hour. This experiment is helping Ford understand how people move and to see patterns most customers don’t.

  2. Fleet insights, US. Ford engineers are working with HP to track the driving habits of 100 vehicles used nationwide by HP employees for work and personal commuting. The project will shed light on the purpose behind the trips, how drivers interact with external factors such as weather and traffic, and how to further personalize time behind the wheel. The data is gathered by devices plugged into the HP fleet vehicles.

  3. Data Driven Insurance, London. This experiment studies a driver’s behavior over time in order to build a more personalized mobility profile. The goal is to create a driving behavior passport that can be used to calculate more exact insurance rates and allow drivers to take the information with them, from car to car or from insurance carrier to insurance carrier. Vehicle data might enable lower insurance rates for good drivers.

  4. Remote Repositioning, Atlanta. Using Georgia Tech-owned golf carts to prove out the technology, a person sitting in a remote location can access real-time video streamed over LTE to drive the carts. The outcome could be a more affordable and effective way to share or park vehicles using a remote “valet.”

  5. City Driving On-Demand, London. While there are many car-sharing services based on the reservation model, the focus of this experiment is on-demand use. Researchers are exploring how to optimize the service, such as offering pay-by-minute and enabling one-way trips across the city. A fleet of Ford Focus Electric vehicles and Ford Fiestas with EcoBoost powertrains is located across London. Users can register, get directions to the nearest service location, reserve a vehicle and pay—all through a mobile app. The London service targets a better customer experience and improved operational efficiency compared to existing car-sharing models.

  6. Dynamic Social Shuttle, New York and London. For city dwellers, Ford is investigating a shareable service of premium mini-buses offering point-to-point pick-up and drop-off on-demand. The goal is to better understand the social dynamics and routing requirements of shared transportation. Commuters enter a starting location and a destination into a smartphone app. A shuttle that accommodates four to 10 passengers picks up and drops off commuters at convenient locations, taking the most suitable route for all passengers on board.

  7. Car Swap, Dearborn. Car Swap is an experiment using Ford-owned fleet vehicles. Participating Ford employees use a mobile app that allows them to search for a vehicle that meets their needs, and negotiate terms of the swap. The experiment will provide an in-depth understanding of how Ford can help make car swapping easier.

  8. Ford Charsharing, Germany. For city dwellers, Ford is investigating a shareable service of premium mini-buses offering point-to-point pick-up and drop-off on-demand. The goal is to better understand the social dynamics and routing requirements of shared transportation. Commuters enter a starting location and a destination into a smartphone app. A shuttle that accommodates four to 10 passengers picks up and drops off commuters at convenient locations, taking the most suitable route for all passengers on board.

  9. Share-Car, Bangalore, India. In Bangalore, Ford is working with Zoomcar to test a sharing concept that would allow small groups, such as co-workers, apartment dwellers and families, to share a vehicle among multiple drivers. The approach helps consumers who can’t afford a car but want the benefits of owning one. Researchers plan to develop a model for vehicle scheduling and managing ownership.

  10. Rapid Recharge & Share, Dearborn. Electric vehicles would be beneficial as urban shared vehicles because they have lower operating costs and can be “refueled” in their parking space. But if a shared car is consistently being driven, it needs time to charge. Ford is investigating a partnership with a retail or fast-food business to develop a fast-charging infrastructure, making electric vehicles practical choices for car-sharing.

  11. Data Driven Healthcare, Africa. In West Africa, unpaved roads and a lack of reliable transportation prevent people from accessing healthcare. Ford is working with Riders for Health, an organization that manages and maintains fleets that deliver healthcare workers to patients who need help. Equipping Ford pickup trucks and SUVs with OpenXC technology will help better maintain the vehicles, as well as allow for vehicle data to be collected that could improve productivity. Ford is also using data collected to create maps of the region, where most mapping companies do not go.

  12. Parking Spotter, Atlanta. This experiment, the second conducted with Georgia Tech, leverages driver-assist sensors that most Ford vehicles already have, including sonar and radar, by putting them to work for everybody. The sensors search for open parking spaces while the driver looks for spots around the city, and share the information with a cloud database other drivers can access. The system makes it easier for a driver to locate an open spot, reserve it and navigate to the space. It also reduces fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

  13. Info Cycle, Palo Alto, California. Engineers are working to develop sensor kits based on Ford OpenXC that gather information from bicycles and other common forms of transportation in urban areas. The devices gather data such as wheel speed, acceleration and altitude, among other information. The data could provide insight into how alternate modes of transportation might be best positioned to serve future urban mobility needs.

  14. Painless Parking, London. In London, Ford is working to make parking easier for drivers and the city. Drivers voluntarily use plug-in devices that create live data on traffic and parking. The City Dash app tells users whether they are legally parked. If not, the app recommends the nearest open spot. It allows drivers to pay for parking meters by mobile phone, and identifies the closest available parking spots to the driver’s final destination.

With the Innovate Mobility Challenge Series, Ford invited innovators and developers around the world to create solutions for specific mobility challenges in North America and South America, Portugal, Africa, India, China, England and Australia.

Challenges included finding technology solutions to identify open parking spaces in urban areas, better ways to navigate crowded cities and the use of navigation and other tools to help people gain access to medical care in remote areas.


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