LAS VEGAS — Ford Motor Co., putting significant time and capital into repositioning itself as a vehicle manufacturer with cutting-edge electronics, is integrating a slew of new IT-related capabilities into its 2010/2011 product lines.
These include more touch and voice access, Wi-Fi connections, cloud services connectivity, and popular preinstalled Web applications such as Twitter and Pandora.
Ford CEO Alan Mullaly and four of his corporate lieutenants addressed the Computer Electronics Show at the Hilton Center Las Vegas Jan. 7 to introduce the company’s latest IT plans based on the Microsoft-developed Sync operating system and explain how they will benefit customers.
Back in September 2009, the company previewed some of these features to media members. Since then, however, the Dearborn, Mich.-based auto and truck manufacturer has added several more IT-related items, most of which will be introduced in its 2010 and 2011 models.
Many of the new features Ford is debuting involve touch-screen and voice access, so as to allow a driver to keep his or her mind primarily on the road. Controls on the steering wheel and a dashboard touch screen handle most of the physical input.
In fact, some features-such as the dashboard browser-cannot be operated when the vehicle is moving, for obvious safety reasons.
So many new features involve touch screens that Ford has branded the new vehicles as Ford and Lincoln “MyTouch” models. For example, MyTouch Lincolns-befitting their luxury-car positioning-will sport upgraded sound systems using THX theater-quality stereo and enhanced on-screen graphics, among other premium features.
The touch screens themselves have been redesigned and simplified through color coding for ease of use by the driver, Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s director of electrical and electronics systems engineering, told the audience.
Creating a Mouse for the Automobile
“What the mouse did for the PC, we need to create for the automobile,” Buczkowski said.
The dashboard screen is laid out with the four key communication categories color-coded and located in each corner of the screen: Entertainment (red), Climate (blue), Navigation (green) and Telephone (gold). It makes for simpler operation and less distraction for the driver, Buczkowski said.
On the entertainment side, Ford is developing-in partnership with Sirius Satellite Radio-a feature called Instant Replay Record, which will allow users to record and play back up to 45 minutes of programming at will, using touch screens.
Ford also said that iTunes “tagging” will become standard in cars equipped with HD radio.
Tagging enables listeners to “tag” a song or other track they hear on the radio and send the metadata to a mobile or home device, so that the user can return at a later time and buy the track via iTunes or another online marketer. The tag includes title, artist and other information about the track.
The sound system also allows direct integration with iPods and other portable music devices, and it makes selecting music to play basically effortless.
“With the usual iPod connection, a driver has to shuffle back and forth from looking at the dashboard to watching the road. Totally unsafe,” Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s vice president of product development, told the audience.
“Using Sync [and its voice capabilities], a driver can call up a song from his iPod to the car’s sound system in about 5 seconds, without ever having his eyes leave the road.”
A new Ford partnership with Mapquest now enables users to send directions from mobile devices directly into the Ford Sync system.
The first Lincoln MyTouch and the new Ford Edge will be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show Jan. 15. The 2010 Ford Focus also will debut at that show; media members got a preview of the all-electric 2010 Focus back on Oct. 26, 2009.
A key-and apparently highly desired-feature is Active Park Assist, already available on some models, which is expected to become standard on many vehicles. The Active Park Assist system parallel-parks a vehicle, needing little or no involvement from the driver, using a sophisticated system of sensors and steering controls.
Mullaly said that the company expects all these new technologies to be integrated into 80 percent of its vehicles by 2014.