Ford Motor Company says it is aggressively accelerating its commitment to wirelessly connected intelligent vehicles. Such vehicles would have what’s known as vehicle-to-vehicle communications using Wi-Fi, and will first be built as prototypes for demos across the U.S. The automaker plans to double its intelligent vehicle investment in 2011 and dedicate more scientists to developing the technology.
An October National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report on the potential safety benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle communications estimates that intelligent vehicles could help in as many as 4,336,000 police-reported, light-vehicle crashes annually, or approximately 81 percent of all light-vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers. Experts say intelligent vehicles could be on the road in five to 10 years.
Ford’s demonstration vehicles will hit the road this spring, starting at major technology hubs across the country.
How it works
Ford’s vehicle communications research technology allows vehicles to talk wirelessly with one another using advanced Wi-Fi signals, or dedicated short-range communications, on a secured channel allocated by the Federal Communications Commission. Unlike radar-based safety features, which identify hazards within a direct line of sight, the Wi-Fi-based radio system allows full-range, 360-degree detection of potentially dangerous situations, such as when a driver’s vision is obstructed.
For example, drivers could be alerted if their vehicle is on path to collide with another vehicle at an intersection, when a vehicle ahead stops or slows suddenly or when a traffic pattern changes on a busy highway. The systems also could warn drivers if there is a risk of collision when changing lanes, approaching a stationary or parked vehicle, or if another driver loses control.
Ford hits the gas on vehicle communications
After a decade of research, Ford plans a new 20-member task force – consisting of company planners, engineers, and scientists from around the world with expertise in safety, eco-mobility, infotainment, and driver convenience – to accelerate development of intelligent vehicles with features that provide a range of benefits to consumers.
Ford also is doubling its intelligent vehicle research investment, building on the company’s SYNC and MyFord Touch innovations. The goal is to define the next 10 years of safety, convenience, and driver assistance, and strengthen the company’s position in the industry with regard to connected vehicle technology.
“While there are challenges ahead, the foundation of these smarter vehicles is advanced versions of technologies that are pervasive” in mainstream vehicles today, says Paul Mascarenas, vice president, research and advanced engineering and chief technology officer. Mascarenas also notes that the intelligent cars could warn drivers of potential dangers, “such as a car running a red light but blocked from the view of a driver properly entering the intersection.”
Speaking the same language
Ford is partnering with other automakers, the federal government, as well as local and county road commissions to create a common language that ensures all vehicles can talk to each other based on a common communication standard.
This public-private partnership will include the world’s first government-sponsored driving clinics beginning in summer 2011, for which the company will contribute two prototype Ford Taurus sedans. The DOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) will head the research, continuing to coordinate with a coalition of automakers organized by the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP), which is a joint research group headed by Ford and General Motors. The partnership is working to develop interoperability standards in advance of completing the research phase in 2013.
“Ford has laid the groundwork to give vehicles a voice with SYNC and Wi-Fi technology,” says Jim Vondale, director, Ford automotive safety office. “Now we’re working with other automakers and government leaders worldwide to develop common standards globally to bring intelligent vehicles to market quicker and more affordably.”
Vondale has been appointed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to represent automakers on the ITS Advisory Committee. Mike Shulman, technical leader, Ford research and advanced engineering, leads the government-industry technical partnership as program manager for CAMP.
Beyond safety, endless possibilities
By reducing crashes, intelligent vehicles could ease traffic delays, which would save drivers both time and fuel costs. Congestion also could be avoided through a network of intelligent vehicles and infrastructure that would process real-time traffic and road information and allow drivers to choose less congested routes.
According to Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI) 2010 Urban Mobility Report, traffic congestion continues to worsen in American cities of all sizes, annually wasting nearly 3.9 billion gallons of fuel in 2009 and costing the average commuter $808 in additional fuel. Leading factors in traffic delays are caused by accidents, breakdowns, and road debris, TTI maintains.
“The day is not far off when our vehicles will operate like mobile devices with four wheels, constantly exchanging information and communicating with our environment to do things like shorten commute times, improve fuel economy, and generally help us more easily navigate life on the road,” says Mascarenas.