CEA President Gary Shapiro announces that Ford will be delivering the opening keynote at CES 2011.  (Source: DailyTech LLC)
DailyTech was live at Ford's press conference to receive the news of the company's upcoming appearance

Ford is the only U.S. auto company to survive the recession without going bankrupt and reaching deep into the U.S. government's pockets.  Ideally positioned, the company is making a strong bid to become the world's top auto maker, armed with its proprietary SYNC technology, EcoBoost, promising new hybrids like the Ford Fusion Hybrid, and upcoming electric vehicles. 

Yesterday, the company held a press conference at the Dearborn Hotel in Dearborn, Michigan to announce some major news -- Ford will be appearing again at CES and Ford CEO Alan Mulally will be delivering the keynote address at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 7.  DailyTech attended the Ford press conference and got a chance to listen to Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) President and CEO Gary Shapiro break the news and give his thoughts on Ford.

Mr. Shapiro stated, "Ford understands the importance of technology as a driver of innovative vehicles... Ford's vision of wireless tech has set the bar [high] for the automotive industry and forever changed how consumers interact with their cars."

Ford and CEA officials then held a brief panel to discuss Ford's hottest technology, Ford SYNC and other innovations from the company.  Built on top of a Microsoft OS and with voice recognition technology from Nuance (see AnandTech's special on this company's voice recognition products), Ford believes that the SYNC's latest features like Traffic, Directions and Information Services put its vehicles a step ahead of the competition.

The company also emphasizes that SYNC makes common in-car activities like phone calls or listening to music safer and less distracting.  Ford's Jim Buczkowski, director of Electronics & Electrical Systems Engineering emphasized this point stating, "At Ford, driver distraction is a very important issue, voice technology helps keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.  Technologies like Ford SYNC are key to managing distractions."

Gary Shapiro and the Ford directors agreed that SYNC would allowing a hands-free texting ban without the loss of functionality.  As far as a texting ban, Shapiro states, "Banning texting while driving is a no-brainer."

According to Buczkowski and Doug VanDagens, director of Connected Services at Ford, one SYNC feature that's being worked out is outgoing voice-driven text messaging.  The big holdup is fine-tuning the editing of text messages by voice, they say, but they expect the feature to be delivered sometime in the near future (perhaps a CES announcement?).  We also asked them when the vehicles might be getting automatic updates via cell phones or other wireless links.  Ford responded that they believe that their user downloadable updates, such as their "SYNC My Ride" program, are good enough and that the user can install updates manually via USB.

As to security, DailyTech pointed out that viruses or malware on the iPod or other devices could in theory attack SYNC (causing volume disruption, bad directions, errant speech, etc.), and asked what protections were being put in place to stop this.  Ford did not really comment on a protections within SYNC, but said that vehicle specific functions were firewalled to protect them from the vulnerable consumer interface.  So while malware could, in theory, wreak havoc with SYNC, your base vehicle would be safe.

Another feature Ford touted was their radar and sonar blind spot detection, parking lot Cross Traffic Alert, and warnings to prevent rear end collisions.  All of these features help distracted drivers regain their concentration.  DailyTech asked Ford if they would be overriding driver commands at some point, if drivers executed dangerous moves, such as going into a lane with a car in it, despite the warning. 

Buczkowski and VanDagens said that Ford engineers are considering this, but the issue is to implement it properly.  For now, they say the driver is ultimately responsible for their own safety, though the car does take some steps when fast approaching an obstacle, such as precharging the brakes.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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