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Ford hopes to use Wi-Fi to prevent T-bone collisions and other common types of accidents by in-vehicle warnings of hazards the driver can't see.  (Source: Nagle Web)

Ford also hopes that its App Link API will help save users from the distraction of using smart phone apps while driving.  (Source: AP Photo)

MyFord Touch appeared greatly improved from when we last saw it.  (Source: Overall)
Company unveiled a number of safety initiatives at a special press conference

At a special press event at Ford Motor Company's (F) Research and Innovation Center, the company presented a variety of new technologies, ranging from infotainment to "green" transportation.  However, the real star of the show -- and its focus -- was Ford's ambitious safety agenda.

I. Ad-Hoc Network to Protect Drivers

Ford is working with a variety of other automakers [1][2] to try to push for mass adoption of wireless communications between vehicles.

If the company has its way, it will work with local, state, and federal governments to select a city for a pilot project.  That city would have Wi-Fi communications devices added to traffic signals and could offer drivers of older vehicles kits to retrofit their vehicle to properly "talk" to its fellow autos.  Additionally, all new vehicles sold in the area would come with the devices built in.

Under the plan the cars would communicate with each other over an ad-hoc peer-to-peer network of sorts, using the IEEE 802.11p standard, the SAE J2375 standard, and the SAE J2945 standard.

By "talking" to each other vehicles could give drivers warnings, akin to today's blind-spot detection warnings.  Ford engineer Mark Shulman showed off the system in a test vehicle.

The car gave warnings for a variety of dangerous scenarios that drivers today have little protection against.

In the first scenario a car two vehicles in front of the driver slams on their brakes.  This can be hard to see as the driver in front of you is blocking your view.  When that driver fails to stop, you can end up the victim of a pile-up crash.  Using the Wi-Fi, the system set off a blaring noise and a flashing red strip below the front windshield when the sudden braking  was detected.

In the second scenario you're following a vehicle who sees a vehicle stopped on the side of the road.  You can't see the stopped vehicle, and the car in front of you plans to quickly veer off at the last minute, leaving you barreling directly towards the stopped vehicle.  In the Wi-Fi equipped vehicle this scenario yet again blared a warning as the vehicle could "see" the stopped car, right through the car in front of it.

A third scenario was discussed in which a car is speeding forward in the lane next you, just as you decide to change lanes.  Normal blind spot detection won't help you here, as the car isn't next to you -- yet.  But the Wi-Fi system is supposed to warning you just in time not to switch lanes.  Unfortunately this scenario suffered from a technical glitch, so were unable to see it in action.

A fourth scenario, though, went off without a glitch.  In this scenario the driver approaches an intersection where they have a green light.  Normally trees and other visual obstacles might obstruct the driver's view of the cross street.  A person barreling through the cross street and violating the traffic signal could crash into you, T-boning your car.  

With Ford's system your car senses that another car is approaching the intersection where it has the red light.  By checking the car's speed, your car determines that the other vehicle is going to be unable to stop and will run the light.  As a result the warning blares.

Mr. Shulman described the new system as "like a vigilant passenger", who was offering you a second set of eyes on the road.

He said that the system was very inexpensive as all it requires is a GPS unit and a WiFi routing chip.

II. Virtual Child Dummy

At the conference Ford also gave additional details regarding its announcement that it had become reportedly the first automaker to develop a fully digital child crash test dummy.

The work began in Sept. 2010 at Tianjin University in China.  Thus far the spatial model has been formed and fully actuated.  The only remaining step will be to perform materials testing on child cadavers, doing stuff like compressing organs.  While compressing a cadavers' livers may sound grisly, bear in mind that these tests are in the name of science and saving lives.

Steve Rouhana told DailyTech that the model follows pioneering work on an adult model done between 1997 and 2003 by a graduate of Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich.  He says that adult model is virtually as accurate as a physical crash test dummy in examining impacts, although it can't be used for government crash test compliance testing -- yet.

III. App Link -- A Solution for Smartphone Addiction?

According to Ford, people love to use their smartphones in the car -- perhaps a little too much.  The company says that its research indicates that 4 in 5 smart phone owners use their devices in vehicle.  In fact it found that the average smart phone owner uses their device in-vehicle 7.4 hours a week.  And 25 percent outright admit to using apps while driving.

That's pretty bad considering consider that Ford VP Susan Cischke says that 81 percent of crash result due to manual distractions.

To that end Ford is looking to expand its App Link service, which is currently offered with its SYNC infotainment system on the Ford Fiesta.  Ford boasts that 2,500 developers are now actively using its App Link application programming interface (API) and software development kit (SDK). 

Ford says that it will expand App Link to 10 more of its vehicles within the next year.  It also announced that one of the key developers will be Pandora, who will be working Ford to offer App Link-driven internet radio.

The company has already received strong feedback from customers.  According to its research, 64 percent said that they would feel less distracted if their smart phone apps were integrated into the car's entertainment system and 55 percent said they would prefer to use voice commands.

The integration will come at no additional charge from SYNC's base options fee of $395 USD on new vehicles.

Ford also showed off some more additions to its SYNC arsenal -- including a 911-type emergency assistance project aimed at the European market.  Dubbed "112 assist" after Europe's emergency routing system, the car will be able to speak to emergency dispatchers in the native language of the region, which it detects using GPS.  For example, in Britain it will speak English, but if you take the rail across the Chunnel to France your system will switch over to speaking French.

The company is also working with a medical device manufacturer to test a "stress monitoring" seat, which use a series of contactless heart rate monitors, similar to those found in hospital beds.  The seat reportedly would monitor the user's stress level and -- with permission -- take certain steps to make the ride easier for them.  For example it might block incoming calls if the driver was stressed, sending them straight to voicemail.  Or it might do pre-braking or other crash avoidance/mitigation measures, in case the driver looses focus.

While we commend Ford on these efforts, we do find it a little odd that Ms. Cischke admits that manual distractions particularly ones that require you to "look down" are a massive danger, yet the company allows drivers to interact with the MyFord Touch's (MFT) screen while driving (which inherently compromises a manual distraction, involving looking down).

Ms. Cischke defended this decision, stating that Ford follows voluntary industry standards relating to "glance time" with MFT.  We can understand this, but it still seems like it would be a better idea to cut out the touch interaction all together and exclusively allow interaction via voice, and perhaps the steering wheel controls and LCD panels in the gauges cluster (which seem slightly less distracting as you don't have to look as far).

IV. MyFord Touch ... Shaping Up Nicely

Speaking of MyFord Touch, we gave it a bit of a tough time for its voice recognition difficulties during our stint in the 2012 Ford Focus.  However, our testing of demos on-site showed that the current build of the system has shown some marked improvement.

Most notably, it now recognizes some of the "special" commands like "I'm hungry," which were noticeably non-working both at our demo at CES 2011 and in our test vehicle.

Further, the system appeared to have much less slowdown.  SYNC team engineers tell us that they're also working to make the system more responsive to short names in the phonebook (such as "Bob", "Joe", or "Mom").  They also say that they are aware of the reboot issue and that recent builds are more stable.

Mark Fields, Ford's President of the Americas, stated, "Early on customers reported some issues with MyFord Touch.  We've listened and we've been fixing them."

Ford officials said that the company has been seeing success with its classes to educate customers on how to use the systems.  It also points to a new website that offers users train resources and feedback.

The company claims it currently has a 75 percent satisfaction rate with MyFord Touch, with 85 percent of customers saying it was easier to use than SYNC.  It adds that 80 percent of users say they would recommend the system to a friend.

Officials with the company told us that they will arrange for a test vehicle with the current version of MyFord Touch.  We look forward to providing a follow up to our previous coverage, offering more in-depth details on the progress of the new system build.

V. Odds and Ends

The company also stated that it was receiving great feedback about its MyKey feature [1][2] for teen drivers.  It said that it would be expanding the options slightly.  Currently there's an option to limit the vehicle speed on programmed keys to 80 miles per hour.  With the update, you'll be able to program a variety of speeds into the system, including speeds lower than 80 mph.

We asked Ford safety manager Andy Sarkisian whether a time-driven "curfew" might be built into the system as well.  He said that Ford looked into both that an so-called "geofencing" -- constraining how far the teen could go -- but decided that it would be too intrusive and amount to policing drivers.

During his presentation, Mark Fields also through out some interesting numbers onf Ford's uptake of fuel efficient small cars.  He said that in May 2011 Ford saw its highest sales since May 2008.  And he said that for the first time the V6 version of the Ford F150 outsold the V8 version (55 percent to 45 percent).

His presentation also described how fuel economy has risen as a key purchasing factor across every vehicle class -- even in classes like trucks, sportscars, and SUVs, where fuel economy traditionally was a non-issue.

Mr. Fields brags that 12 Ford vehicles led their segment in fuel economy for the 2012 model year and that Ford was the only automaker to offer 4 vehicles with a fuel economy of 40 mpg or better.

In his post-presentation comments, Mr. Fields says that thus far June sales are looking to be just as strong as May's, if not more so.

Ford summed up its guiding research philosophy as "Drive Smart, Drive Safe, Drive Quality, Drive Green."


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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

How about
By FITCamaro on 6/22/2011 11:45:05 PM , Rating: 5
People not be dumbasses? When did this country start to go downhill? When the stupid started being able to survive their stupidity.




RE: How about
By Samus on 6/23/2011 1:51:21 AM , Rating: 1
You do realize traffic fatalities have been reduced year after year because of technologies like these...

I remember in the 70's people thought seatbelts were stupid because it was safer to be ejected from the car. Thats how people thought in the 70's, just like people in the 50's & 60's believed smoking was actually 'good' for you.

In the 80's, I remember people bitching about air bags and how they could go off at any minute and cause an accident. Granted, first generation airbags weren't great, but all the technology they brought a decade later, such as seatbelt pretensioners, side curtains, and now inflating seatbelts, are all excellent technologies.

Like any new technology, it's a first generation. It'll be good at first, and only get better over time.

Or...you can just go back to 1910 and drive your handcrank-start model T, because those handcranks were REAL safe.


RE: How about
By YashBudini on 6/23/2011 2:23:35 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I remember in the 70's people thought seatbelts were stupid because it was safer to be ejected from the car.

Lap only belts that were not worn properly (over your abdomen as opposed to over your hips) could cause fatal internal injuries. There was an accident with a Firebird where the unbelted child sustained no serious injuries while the belted child later died.
quote:
In the 80's, I remember people bitching about air bags and how they could go off at any minute and cause an accident.

My airbag deployed after hitting a deer at about 65 mph, and stayed inflated while my car was going off the road in circles at about 50 mph.
quote:
Granted, first generation airbags weren't great

Yeah, I know.


RE: How about
By YashBudini on 6/23/2011 2:26:26 AM , Rating: 2
Hey Jason can you offer an explanation why the previous post rating went immediately to "1"?


RE: How about
By DanNeely on 6/23/2011 6:56:23 AM , Rating: 3
It's the profanity filter. It applies to quoted text as well as stuff you write.


RE: How about
By FITCamaro on 6/23/2011 9:05:07 AM , Rating: 2
Yes I realize exactly that.


RE: How about
By omnicronx on 6/23/2011 2:20:26 AM , Rating: 5
quote:
Make it idiot-proof, and someone will make a better idiot.


RE: How about
By clhathat on 6/23/2011 7:45:50 AM , Rating: 2
also known as moral hazard


RE: How about
By FITCamaro on 6/23/2011 9:06:05 AM , Rating: 3
Pretty much.

"Hey look my car will auto-brake for me! Now I don't have to pay attention at all!"


RE: How about
By XZerg on 6/23/2011 2:40:08 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.

Albert Einstein
US (German-born) physicist (1879 - 1955)


RE: How about
By yomamafor1 on 6/23/2011 7:24:33 AM , Rating: 1
These "dumbasses" technologies you speak of not only includes the ones described in this article, but also seat belts, airbags, crumple zones, and ABS. It might not occur to that pea brain of yours, but like it or not, these technologies do save a lot of lives annually.


RE: How about
By FITCamaro on 6/23/2011 9:09:07 AM , Rating: 3
Where did I call them dumb?

I called the people dumb. And yes as these technologies have gotten further and further advanced and become mandated instead of optional, people have become worse and worse drivers. Why? Because people aren't fearing getting in accidents. They think the technology will save them.

When cars didn't have crumple zones, 50 air bags, auto-braking systems, etc., people actually cared about driving well. Because there was a high chance you wouldn't walk away from an accident. Now you can total your car doing 50 mph and walk away. People view the only downside of an accident is an increased insurance premium.


RE: How about
By Dr of crap on 6/23/2011 10:33:41 AM , Rating: 2
No the problem is that people only think of themsleves and no one else.
What can you do for me.
What can I get out of it.
Why don't you get out of my way.
I want to change lanes, you have to slow down for me.
You need to what me kid while I lie in the sun.

Need anymore examples. It all about me and there is no respect for others or civility anymore. And don't get me started on BAD parenting!


RE: How about
By Jcfili on 6/23/2011 10:33:44 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly!!! You said it all .. I'm amazed of all the stupid accidents that happens on the road ... and the most amazing part is that THEY LIVE ANOTHER DAY to create ANOTHER ACCIDENT


RE: How about
By yomamafor1 on 6/23/2011 7:33:05 PM , Rating: 2
No, people drive fast because they THINK they can drive, when in fact they can't. They think their skill can save them. Regardless of whether or not a car has advanced technologies to keep the passengers safe, people still do drive like lunatics. Case in point: from my experience, the worst drivers usually drive Korean cars and Honda CRX, both car have less crumple zone than a box of tissue, and on average have less than 1 airbag working at the time. Does that stop those people driving like idiots? No.

Also, you might want to consider those who was injured as a direct result of somebody driving like idiots. Perhaps they're dumbassses too for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, hmm?


RE: How about
By Spookster on 6/23/2011 12:50:46 PM , Rating: 2
If they make something idiot proof then the world will just make a better idiot.


RE: How about
By masamasa on 6/24/2011 2:39:01 AM , Rating: 2
You pretty much nailed it. Idiots always have been and always will be idiots. You can thank their parents for that.


More "drive safe"
By YashBudini on 6/22/2011 11:41:40 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
people love to use their smartphones in the car

How about if the car determines its going 65 and the driver is texting to say,
"Hey arse, get off the faulken phone already!"?

quote:
For example it might block incoming calls if the driver was stressed,

What stress? 65 mph down the highway and over 3 feet of space between you and the car in front of you. Too many drivers have no stress at all to that situation.

quote:
in case the driver looses focus

Whoa, why did we assume drivers were focused in the first place? Ever see a teenager drive?

quote:
Most notably, it now recognizes some of the "special" commands like "I'm hungry," which were noticeably non-working both at our demo at CES 2011 and in our test vehicle.

Because people all over the US are suffering from major malnutrition because they drive and don't eat or can't find a McDs.

quote:
He said that Ford looked into both that an so-called "geofencing" -- constraining how far the teen could go -- but decided that it would be too intrusive and amount to policing drivers.

Translation: We know the kids would so pi$$ed they would not buy Fords, so we decided not to do this.




RE: More "drive safe"
By n00bxqb on 6/23/2011 1:33:48 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
the car will be able to speak to emergency dispatchers in the native language of the region, which it detects using GPS. For example, in Britain it will speak English, but if you take the rail across the Chunnel to France your system will switch over to speaking French.
I'm in Canada, so this wouldn't affect me in the slightest, but it seems to me that a person who purchased their vehicle in England may not speak french, german, spanish, italian, portugese, etc. ... which makes this system incredibly stupid, IMO.

The scenarios:
1 - Follow at a safe distance, pay attention.
2 - Follow at a safe distance, pay attention.
3 - Set your mirrors up properly, shoulder check.
4 - Slow down when approaching an intersection, pay attention to crossing traffic.

Basically, if drivers, you know, drove properly and safely, we wouldn't need to spend millions (possibly billions) of dollars to "idiot-proof" driving. And, as the saying goes, try to idiot-proof something and the world will make a better idiot.

A better, less costly solution is to make obtaining a driver's license more difficult, make punishments for causing an accident harsher, and require drivers to take physical and driving exams every 5-10 years to ensure they're healthy enough, physically and mentally, to drive safely.

I've been driving for 12 years with no tickets and no accidents in a variety of different cars, none of which had these "safety" aids. There's no reason why we should be making more excuses for those who refuse to drive safely to continue driving.

Plus, unless the car is braking/maneuvering for the driver (which this system doesn't), I'm sure most people would freak out and panic when a red light and loud alarm suddenly starts going off in front of them.

Also, want to talk about safety hazards ? How about removing physical, tactile buttons and dials and replacing them with touch screens with no tactile feedback ?

I hate the direction the world is going in ... It seems like everything is built around the lowest common denominator these days ...


RE: More "drive safe"
By Black1969ta on 6/23/2011 6:08:17 AM , Rating: 2
Not to Mention if they want to be the safest possible instead of car A telling its driver that the driver of Car B is an Idiot.

Why not just make Car B recognize the "red Light" and STOP! Ford wants to force everyone to use this technology, so make it proactive instead of retroactive.
Heck better Yet, eliminate the worst risk in a Vehicular accident, (The loose Nut behind the wheel) and make cars all have autopilot. Only people who have passed a stringent Driving test are allow to manually drive and then only at sanctioned "races."

Autopilot would instantly eliminate Drunk-driving, asleep-at-the-wheel, and careless driving accidents. Also, with computer pilots the average speeds could increase, while eliminating rabbit starts and other poor efficiency driving habits.


RE: More "drive safe"
By B-Unit on 6/23/2011 8:59:57 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
I'm in Canada, so this wouldn't affect me in the slightest, but it seems to me that a person who purchased their vehicle in England may not speak french, german, spanish, italian, portugese, etc. ... which makes this system incredibly stupid, IMO.


Reading comprehension fail. It doesnt speak the language to you, it speaks it to emergency dispatchers if you are in trouble.


uh oh
By omnicronx on 6/23/2011 1:32:15 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Most notably, it now recognizes some of the "special" commands like "I'm hungry," which were noticeably non-working both at our demo at CES 2011 and in our test vehicle.
My focus responds to that command perfectly, now if only it would actually do things I want as my stomach can find its own way!

I REALLY hope what you were looking at is a newer build than mine, as my build from May 25th is still terrible.




RE: uh oh
By YashBudini on 6/23/2011 1:34:17 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
my build from May 25th is still terrible.

Judging from their priorities the goal seems to be maximum diversion from your problem.


This is AWESOME
By EasyC on 6/23/2011 7:03:37 AM , Rating: 2
Now I can physically tell the moron in front of me that he's a douche bag when he does something really stupid. I can cancel my order for a loud speaker. Awesome.




RE: This is AWESOME
By UNHchabo on 6/23/2011 6:15:22 PM , Rating: 2
I actually know a guy who installed a loudspeaker on his pickup, and hooked it into a CB-style microphone inside the cabin.

He loves to use it in place of his horn. :)


Problems.
By millerm277 on 6/23/2011 9:57:39 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
We can understand this, but it still seems like it would be a better idea to cut out the touch interaction all together and exclusively allow interaction via voice, and perhaps the steering wheel controls and LCD panels in the gauges cluster (which seem slightly less distracting as you don't have to look as far).


Right. I'm sure everyone will be thrilled when they're driving on the highway and their car is refusing to change to the right radio station because some moron disabled the main controls for it.

quote:
With the update, you'll be able to program a variety of speeds into the system, including speeds lower than 80 mph.


I suspect there will be a lawsuit when the first person gets killed because of a poorly set limit. Someone set it to 50mph, person gets on the highway, gets run down by a truck because they can't accelerate.




RE: Problems.
By cjohnson2136 on 6/24/2011 8:40:26 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I suspect there will be a lawsuit when the first person gets killed because of a poorly set limit. Someone set it to 50mph, person gets on the highway, gets run down by a truck because they can't accelerate.


Well for one it would be the driver's fault for setting it that low if you plan on going on a highway. And second it would be the truck driver's fault for hitting you. You can't sue a company from you using the software poorly (well you can try but you won't win).


Wanna bet
By mosu on 6/25/2011 2:40:05 PM , Rating: 2
I'll bet they'll find a jury of morons enough to grant damages for being stupid.Moron solidarity.




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