At this year’s Further with Ford 2015 conference, Ford brought together an impressive array of speakers who shared their knowledge and anticipation about the future of tech and the automotive industry. Emerging trends and innovations in tech were at the heart of this year’s panel discussions, held at the newly expanded Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, alongside Ford partner HP. Needless to say, it was exciting to see where tech and cars might intersect fruitfully (and where they already have).
Throughout our day in Palo Alto, we were reminded of Henry Ford’s original mission, which was to “open highways for all mankind.” Today, with an increasing world population and the growth of megacities around the globe, it is no longer a question of access to highways. Rather, Ford’s new mission is to optimize the use of technologies that blend seamlessly into the way people go about living their lives.
So what does this all mean for cars? It means that Ford is looking closely at how drivers are using their cars and searching for ways to optimize that experience.
One of the cooler bits of tech I got to play with was the OpenXC platform, which is a small piece of hardware that attaches to your car’s OBD II Port, instantly giving you access to raw performance data such as torque, engine speed, transmission gear position, and fuel level, among others. All of this is made available through your smartphone or computer. For the especially tech savvy, the OpenXC platform enables you to develop your own custom modules and apps for your car. One Ford employee showed me a prototype for a 3D-printed shifter he’d developed to use haptic feedback to alert the driver about the precise and most optimal moment to shift gears, increasing performance and optimizing fuel efficiency.
Other bits of tech that were fun to talk about were the Ford’s smart key tech (Intelligent Access and MyKey), Driver-Assist Technology, and the new Sync 3 communications and entertainment system, which I got a chance to test while driving around town.
Ford’s smart key allows the vehicle to detect distinct individuals and tailor the driving experience to their specific preferences. What this means is that, beyond the basic open-the-door, start-the-ignition features we’ve come to expect from smart keys, Ford’s tech will detect drivers upon entry and adjust the driver seat, mirrors, pedals, and steering column to their preferred (and safest) positions.
Parents will be happy to know that they can also apply speed and volume limits for when their kids are behind the wheel, ensuring that they will drive safely and with fewer distractions.
The guy who explained this to me admitted his kid thought of driving as “sucky,” but he said it with a smile… so, you know. Win-win.
Driver-Assist was a key feature on display, and I got to experience it firsthand as I test drove a few of Ford’s cars through San Francisco. Two of the cars I drove (the 2015 Edge and F-150) were larger vehicles, so you’d think Blind Spot detection would come in handy, but it proved to be more a distraction and made me paranoid about who was around me. Ideally, as you prepare to merge, you see a small yellow dot in the far upper-right corner of your side mirror, but this dot was just a persistent bother throughout my drive, even when I was driving straight ahead. I ended up relying more on old-school mirrors, especially on the exceptional F-150, where I had no trouble seeing the road or the cars around me. While driving the 2015 Mustang in heavy San Francisco traffic, I had my first Forward Collision Warning, which I appreciated. In case you’re unfamiliar, upon closing in on a vehicle too closely (in my case, a parked delivery truck), the car will emit a beeping sound and flash a red warning light across your windshield, alerting you to apply the brakes. Other tech that I didn’t get to experience, but which Ford provides or is developing:
- Lane Departure Warning – audio and haptic feedback alert you when you are driving out of the lane.
- Driver Alert – audio and visual alert notify you when driving performance decreases so that you can take a break until you are in better shape to drive.
- Rain-Sensing Wipers – adjust speed to intensity of rain.
- Lane-Keeping Aid – like lane departure, except this technology will partially take over steering to keep you in your lane.
- Collision Mitigation by Braking – like forward collision warning, except this technology will provide a warning and apply the brakes if you don’t.
- Intelligent Speed Assist – this technology uses traffic sign recognition technology to automatically adjust speeds to stay within legal limits.
Ford’s new Sync 3 system should have been the crown jewel of my driving experience, but I’ll admit I was underwhelmed. The system should be the meeting place for all things communication and entertainment, but I found it to be overly complicated and not very intuitive. The screen did not immediately register my touch, so I found myself frustrated as I attempted to navigate through heavy traffic while using the navigation system, which works by breaking destinations down by type or allowing you to manually input the address. Which was weird when I had to weave through traffic while considering whether AT&T Stadium was a Sight to See, a Park, or… wait, what’s its address? Exactly. Navigating and using the radio? Forget about it. Do one at a time, or don’t do any at all. While you can display more than one thing at a time on screen, this feature wasn’t easy to intuit and I found myself hitting the home button just to see what radio station I was on. As for phone connectivity: I didn’t bother. I was over Sync 3.
Maybe Ford has some technical and practical glitches to work out with some of its tech, but it’s nice to see that they are looking towards the future as they develop new technologies that fit with changing lifestyles and safety demands. Still, I had to admit, I left Further with Ford 2015 drooling, not over any of the tech, but the Ford F-150’s amazing design and mirror placement.
Nothing beats an oldie but a goody.