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Automobility

Innovations in smart mobility help Ford Motor Co. go further than ever before

by Kip Hanson, senior editor

 

 

 

Mobility is defined as the ability to move freely and to travel without obstacles or interference. Someone who can easily switch jobs enjoys career mobility while upward mobility is often defined as keeping up with the Joneses living next door.

 

Yet folks are discussing an entirely new kind of mobility these days, one that has nothing to do with job opportunities or societal status. And even though Merriam Webster’s dictionary has yet to catch on, this definition of mobility promises to change everything about the way we get around.

 

Ford collaborated with electronics manufacturer Samsung to develop smart watch technology. You’ll never again forget where you parked.

 

 

Plugging in at Sin City

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was a tech-geek’s dream come true. Everything from wearable pollution sensors to bird-scaring raptor drones were on display. It was a connectivity bonanza as well, with internet-aware kitchen appliances and streaming devices that promise to do away with cable TV, all of which highlights how interconnected and indeed small the world has become in recent years.

 

Automakers were some of the biggest innovators in Las Vegas this year, displaying self-driving concept cars and augmented reality (AR) windshields, holographic dashboards and 1,050-hp electric vehicles. In fact, some attendees dubbed CES the Car Electronics Show, due to the overwhelming technology vehicle manufacturers are bringing to their wares.

 

Chief among these innovators was Ford Motor Co., where president and CEO Mark Fields announced during his keynote speech, “We’re no longer just a car company; now we are an automobile and mobility company.”

 

Ford’s Sync AppLink works with Sygic Car Navigation to project smartphone navigation information directly to the car’s touchscreen display.

 

 

Window shopping

One shining example of this mobility is the company’s AppLink technology, which will allow drivers to gas up at the nearest ExxonMobil or order a pizza from Domino’s without the hassle of digging out their credit card. AppLink allows for voice-activated control of various smartphone apps, so users can play their favorite tunes on Pandora, use Sygic navigation to get directions to Wrigley Field and work with DriverScore to keep track of driving habits, which hopefully could lead to lower insurance rates.

 

None of this would be possible without Sync 3, Ford’s newest iteration of its navigation, audio and cellphone-ready infotainment system. Compared to previous versions, it pulls the door to integration wide open with a host of software development companies.

 

2017 CES also marked a year of partnerships. For example, Ford joined forces with online retailer Amazon and will soon have the company’s cloud-based voice service Alexa riding shotgun. With a few simple commands, the driver of an Alexa–equipped car will be able to order a new pair of argyle socks or a 9-in. garden trowel while driving their kid to soccer practice, or tell Alexa to read them an audiobook as they sit stuck in traffic.

 

Other examples include a collaboration with Samsung on its Gear smartwatch, to help drivers remember where they parked and nudge them when they’re sleepy. Ford also now offers an AT&T-powered 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot as part of its Sync Connect service.

 

Stowable, folding E-Bikes are one of Ford’s concepts for reducing traffic congestion in cities.

 

 

Multimodal journeys

Of course, Ford intends to make traffic congestion a thing of the past. Ford’s E-Bike concept puts a new spin on mobility by allowing drivers to park near their destination and complete the trip on two wheels rather than four. The MoDe:Flex and similar models of electric-assist bicycles fit neatly in the back of select Ford vehicles. The driver parks, removes and unfolds the bike, then navigates city traffic at least partly under his or her own power.

 

The E-Bike is still in the prototype stage, but Ford anticipates this multimodal transportation approach will not only reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, but make its customers healthier, as well. And yes, there’s an E-Bike app for that.   

 

This isn’t the first time Ford has partnered with other organizations. Far from it. The automaker reached an agreement in late 2016 with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to leverage its Ford City Solutions team, which will study the Big Apple’s transportation needs and brainstorm ways to improve congestion. A similar initiative is underway in San Francisco with plans to add another five cities within the next 18 months.

 

“What we’re creating here is an ecosystem and working with cities to help solve how the citizens get around,” CEO Fields told The Detroit News.

 

This map details some of the experiments Ford has undertaken to improve vehicles and the driving experience.

 

 

Ford’s City Solutions team – the only one of its kind in the auto industry – is working with cities around the world to propose, pilot and develop mobility solutions. To address the needs of cities today, Ford acquired Chariot, an app-based, crowd-sourced shuttle service started in San Francisco. Since acquiring Chariot last September, the shuttle service has expanded to Austin, Texas, and is growing its operations to eight cities this year, including at least one city outside of the United States.

 

Ford is also looking at how bicycles can fit into the future of sustainable transportation options. As part of the City Solutions team’s work with San Francisco, Ford is expanding the Bay Area Bike Share program from 700 bikes today to 7,000 by 2018.

 

At the North American International Auto Show, Ford shared its vision for the “City of Tomorrow,” which details how near-term mobility advancements, such as autonomous and electric vehicles, ride-sharing and ride-hailing and connected vehicles, interact with urban infrastructure and create a transportation ecosystem.

 

Ford is imagining a world in which reconfigurable roads fluidly respond to commuter needs and traffic flow. Bikes and drones provide last-mile solutions for both people and goods.

 

Mobility is about improving, and in many ways securing, our future on this planet. Says Fields: “This is the defining challenge of our generation.”

 

Ford Motor Co.

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