Ford, Intel Consider the Connected Car's Future

At its annual Trend Conference, Ford showed off how it’s working to help drivers after accidents, and considering how to make fewer happen. 

Ford connected car

Automakers continue to explore what connected technologies might make possible for drivers.

Two such possibilities were introduced at Ford’s fourth annual Trend Conference in Michigan on June 25. One, 911 Assist, automatically calls for help after a crash, as well as offers first-responders potentially life-saving details; the other, Mobile Interior Imaging, which Ford is tinkering on with Intel, considers how in-car cameras and sensors could do everything from offer a safer ride to prevent the car from starting when a stranger’s in the driver seat.

Arriving as part of a Ford Sync update in the 2015 Mustang, 911 Assist could let a 911 dispatcher know, for example, if both front seatbelts are fastened—indicating that two people are in the car and there may be a need for two ambulances.

An emergency call is automatically placed when an airbag deploys or in the instance of a fuel shutoff—though Sync users will have the option to cancel the call before it’s placed, should the incident have somehow not occurred as the result of a crash. When such calls do go through, the operator will hear a prerecorded message saying that a Ford vehicle has been in a crash and be given the option of receiving GPS information.

The car could also share information such as “the maximum change in velocity during impact, indication of crash type (front, side, rear or rollover), safety belt usage as detected by the vehicle, awareness of whether multiple impacts occurred and whether airbags were deployed,” Ford said in a statement.

Ford, understanding that time is of the essence in such situations, insisted that the alert message to the dipatcher is very brief, and the line then opens to let the passengers of the car speak (hands free) if they’re able.

“We are pleased to continue working with Ford to prolong our vision of any device, anywhere, anytime to provide help needed in the event of an emergency,” Ty Wooten, education and operations director of the nonprofit National Emergency Number Association, said in a statement.

Car, Meet Driver

Intel and Ford have begun considering how vehicle owners might benefit from being able to remotely see inside their cars via interior cameras—and how those same cameras might be helpful while the car is in motion.

The companies have brought together ethnographers, anthropologists, engineers and research engineers as part of a joint research project called Mobile Interior Imaging, or Project Mobii. They’ve integrated interior-facing cameras with sensor technology and data that’s already been generated inside and around the vehicle, in an effort to explore how a “more personalized and seamless interaction between driver and vehicle” might transform the driving experience, said Ford.

What if, for example, when a driver slides into her seat, a front-facing camera uses facial software recognition to identify her and then pull up information specific to her—such as her music, calendar information and contacts. If Mobii detects a passenger, it might it might make less of the driver’s information viewable, for privacy reasons. If a driver sits down who Project Mobii doesn’t recognize, it could immediately send a photo to the vehicle’s owner for permission.

In another use case, if a teenage driver is recognized, speed limit restrictions could be set and seatbelt use could be required for the vehicle to operate.

In-car sensors tied to gesture-recognition software, or voice-based commands, could also be used to do things like open a sunroof, adjust the vehicle’s temperature or address any task that could otherwise distract a driver.

Paul Mascarenas, vice president and chief technology officer of Ford Research and Innovation, said Mobii is at this point “purely research.”

“However, the insights we’ve gained,” he added, “will help us shape the customer experience in the long-term.”

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