Ford Fronts Future of Mobility at CES Shanghai 2015

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When Henry Ford first came up with the world’s first car – the Model T in 1908 he envisioned a future where everyone could drive. Today, his vision has taken form with millions of Ford cars of every make and size from sedans to sports cars on every highway and city on the planet and in all places between. That however introduces its own interesting set of challenges as the dense expanse of urban cities means that more cars are clustered in one place than anywhere else.DSC_8616 (Custom)

With that said, owning a car also comes with its own set of conundrums. Imagine now having to perform that most loathed of tasks – finding a car park. Try doing that during rush hour or the weekends at the mall when everyone and their grandma are doing the same thing as well. Fun? Not much.

If you happen to own both a smartphone and a car, odds are you’ll likely have attempted to text and drive at the same time when you urgently needed to reply to someone, say, for example, your wife that you’re on the way back but you’re stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. Unless you’re Jedi or a multitasking maestro, you’ll have your attention distracted for a few crucial seconds when you take your eyes off the road. Murphy’s Law says that sooner or later, even if you avoid a mishap, you’ll eventually prang something if you keep it up. Global car maker Ford intends to change all that to make driving safer, easier and more effective when they showcased their bold vision of the future that they’ve dubbed as Ford Smart Mobility at CES Shanghai in May.

At the inaugural Consumer Electronics Show in Shanghai, the first ever in the region outside of the usual grand show that takes place in the United States, Ford established a massive sanctum sanctorum that took centre stage in one of the mammoth sized halls where they showcased a series of experiential booths and talks about their Ford Smart Mobility initiative. Rather than the next new fangled widget or gewgaw, Ford is going for the long game, not with a Hail Mary pass of some innovative world changing wunderkind, but with a series of deliberate, well integrated technologies and a strategic vision of how it all fits together that they’ve dubbed as Ford Smart Mobility.DSC02900 (Custom)

Collectively a series of technologies and concepts, the Ford Smart Mobility initiative is a diverse umbrella of hardware, software, ideas and more that aim to reshape how the world moves and addresses the trends of tomorrow’s transport ecosystem. According to Ford, four major trends will drive transportation in the future – rapid population grown, an expanding middle class, the drive for better air quality and public health concerns as well as changing customer attitudes and priorities. In order to address that, Ford has spearheaded a multi-prong solution consisting of research projects, experiments and new tech across the world.DSC_8302 (Custom)

Share and Share Alike

In London, Ford is planning to kick off their GoDrive experiment, a car sharing service that will offer 2000 members of old ‘Blighty access to 50 Ford cars in 20 locations around the city. Initial findings have indicated changing ideas in the concept of car ownership “In today’s crowded cities, individual car ownership isn’t always the most affordable or convenientway to get around and we’re experimenting in oder to optimise how car-sharing can increase mobility all over the world,” says Jim Buczkowski, the director of Electrical and Electronics Systems, Research and Advanced Engineering at Ford in the States.

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Other experiments are taking place across the globe as well such as in Bangalore where Ford is setting up three Ford EcoSports cars in a mobility experiment to explore car sharing in a closed community like colleagues, apartment dwellers and families so that consumers who can’t afford a car or need one constantly are able to enjoy and use one when needed. The initial findings from both experiments are promising indeed and give a better idea as to car ownership and usage trends in the future and ideas how to optimise it so everyone wins.

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The Green Machine

While Ford isn’t exactly a brand name you’d associate with home appliances, they’ve teamed up with some of China’s most prominent white goods makers – Haier, Trina Solar and Delta Electronics are part of the initial team-up – as part of their MyEnergi Lifestyle programme. The pilot programme will be launched in Shanghai and Beijing as a field demonstration of how a combination of renewable energy resources, efficient home appliances and a plug-in electric vehicle can reduce families’ energy costs.

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The average ‘leccy bill is, depending on where you live and the time of year, a rather daunting sight for many; more so if you run multiple air conditioning units or heaters. With the MyEnergi Lifestyle model for China, Ford and researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology predict a wonderfully wallet saving 63 percent of cumulative savings in energy costs – give or take the odd summer heat wave and running air conds at full blast.

The MyEnergi Lifestyle model for China aims to utilise an eco friendly combination of a Ford Fusion Energi Plug-In Hybrid car, 3kW of in-home solar generation panels, the size of the average Chinese home owner’s apartment – a modest 170 square meters of space and with an estimated 525kWh of monthly energy consumption. The best part? They’ve predicted a 40 percent drop in electricity bills and a 69 percent drop in gasoline bills annually. The savings work out to a very healthy RMB 9,400 or about MYR5,462. The initiative also forecasts a reduction in atmosphere polluting emissions and a 45 percent decrease in CO2 output to the tune over 6,828kg. Not bad at all.

Remote Parking? Oh yes!

Two of the key examples of tech that Ford showcased at CES are exciting prospects for the future if you happen to own a car. The first that they’ve dubbed as Remote Repositioning theoretically allows for remote driving. Remember that scene in that James Bond movie as he whips out his smartphone and remotely drives his car from with him in the back seat and bullets zinging around every which way? Ford’s Remote Repositoning tech works much the same way, albeit with less angry bad guys slinging bullets at you.

Their initial experiments, rather than using a souped up sedan, involve a more sedate souped up golf cart. Ford’s partner in the experiment, the University of Georgia has added a plethora of sensors and hardware to it, allowing for remote control via an LTE connection. The experience is uncanny, almost like a video game or the experience of piloting an unmanned drone. “There are some very exciting possibilities here, from improving car-sharing efficiency to simply allowing drivers to stay dry in bad weather,” says Buczkowski. In effect, a car can potentially be repositioned remotely, allowing car sharing programmes to put cars in the right places at the right time, allowing something like car rental services to work more efficiently. This can also lead to potentially better valet parking services and they won’t leave gum under the car seat too.

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The next technology, also worked on in conjunction with the Georgia Institute of Technology is what they’ve dubbed as Parking Spotter that uses a combination of radar and sonar tech as well as a healthy collection of map parking data in a given location lets users know exactly where an open car park is available. The experiment has vehicles on the move mapping open parking spots and then uploading them to the cloud so that other drivers can access it when they’re looking for a place to park. The implications for this technology mean less time waiting, hunting and fighting for a place to park and more time doing what’s important. Sweet.

In Sync

Launched in 2007, Ford’s in-car Sync connectivity system is one of the most popular around the world with 12 million vehicles to date sporting it in either its first incarnation or its improved Sync 2 second generation variant. Now, a third improved version is slated to boost the numbers even higher. Dubbed as SYNC 3, the new connectivity system now sports an 8-inch WVGA capacitive multitouch screen to allow for pinch zooming; handy when using the built-in GPS. It also has a reworked user interface, making it easier to access the various aspects of the menu as well as better understanding in addition to a wider lexicon of voice commands and accent recognition too. A key improvement is the ability to support over the air updates via Wi-Fi connectivity.DSC02763 (Custom)

The system runs on separate hardware, distinct from that running the car. For SYNC 3, the system will run on a Texas Instruments issued processor with 2GB RAM and about 32GB of onboard storage for maps and the like. It will also have a pair of 2.0 USB ports that supports fast charging; a blessing if you need to juice your phone in a hurry. It also supports Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity.

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The SYNC 2 system fitted onto a Ford Focus on show at the Ford booth at CES Shanghai

In use, the SYNC 3 system pairs up with your smartphone via Bluetooth and temporarily downloads a copy of your call history and call details when paired. The system lets you call, text, play music and get directions without ever taking your hand off the wheel. The new SYNC 3 system, unlike its predecessors, runs on QNX from Blackberry rather than the code base developed by Microsoft for the original SYNC and SYNC 2 systems though this doesn’t SYNC 3’s performance.

The astute will wonder if SYNC 3 can be retrofitted to earlier Ford vehicles but according to their engineers, it’s not the most practical of ideas as each vehicle has a unique electrical system and retrofitting new code onto older cars may not be the most practical option for now.

A key aspect of the SYNC system, and in SYNC 3 is expanding support for voice commands for a curated selection of apps, depending on region that they’ve dubbed as AppLink. In China, Ford announced at CES three new members to the AppLink platform for the Chinese market – Ximalaya, Radio.cn and NetEase Music.

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Ford’s new SYNC 3 system pairs with your phone and lets you make calls and navigate via voice commands.

Other improvements for existing SYNC systems are slated to arrive for the Chinese market as well in the form of an emergency assist function that triggers an automated emergency call with GPS coordinates should something catastrophic happen to the vehicle such as an airbag deploying or the fuel pump shut-off switch kicking in. Remote telemetry also will also add in additional information to responders such as the nature of the crash and direction as well as safety belt usage.

At CES Shanghai, Ford demonstrated working examples of the SYNC 3 system sans car and preloaded with US maps. Pinch zooming to search the map was an experience akin to Google Maps or a phone and getting about the menus, pairing a phone – the system remembers a dozen at a time – and making a voice call or verbally searching for directions was relatively painless though it still has to be couched in a certain fashion though it was able to understand multiple English accents.

The new SYNC 3 system is slated to be added to the coming 2015 generation of Ford vehicles, starting with an initial rollout in the United States before hitting other countries around the world. No word on when it’ll hit Malaysia anytime soon though users get to enjoy the current gen SYNC 2 system on the Ford Mondeo, the upcoming Ford Everest and the next version of the Ford Focus. The Mondeo is
currently available in the market with the Everest and Focus slated for a launch later in the year. To find out more, swing by www.ford.com and check out the CES highlight video here 

Ford Fronts Future of Mobility at CES Shanghai 2015