Ford spinning urban mobility web far and wide

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 03 July 2015

FORD has left an indelible mark on the world of mobility with founder Henry Ford transforming mass production of cheap cars a century ago.

Now, the company is spreading its mobility web far and wide as urban congestion demand innovative solutions by instituting research and development into alternatives such as bikes, apps, public transportation and car sharing.

“It can make a material difference in people’s lives by offering more choices and affordable and accessible mobility even if it is not a car,” said Ken Washington, Ford’s new head of research and advanced engineering.

In the opening keynote at Ford’s recent annual trends conference, 2015 Further With Ford, chief executive Mark Fields (below) announced the next phase of the company’s Smart Mobility plan, saying: “For the past few years, our company has actually been warning that that freedom of mobility is now actually being threatened particularly in light of four megatrends that are affecting the future of transportation.”


Fields said the four megatrends were:

– Urbanisation and exploding urban populations. Today there are 28 megacities—cities with populations of 10 million people or more. Expectations are that there will be 41 megacities by 2030.

– The doubling of the global middle class from 2 billion to 4 billion by 2030. Asian countries are driving a lot of this growth, and many of the new middle class aspire to own a car, Fields said.

– Health risks due to poor air quality and congestion.

– Changing customer attitudes and priorities regarding vehicles and transportation in general.

“Rather than sit back as a company and “let’s continue to study” or “let’s worry about these things”, at Ford, we are doing something about it.

“We see this as a huge opportunity—just as big as Henry Ford had in his day a hundred years ago. Because what we are seeing is software and connectivity technology are driving vehicle innovation faster than ever. The clock speed on this stuff is incredible.

“That’s where Ford Smart Mobility comes in. Linking us both as an automotive and a mobility company.”

Much of the work is happening at the new Ford Research and Innovation Centre in California tackling projects involving autonomous vehicles, connectivity and the use of big data.

Fields said about 16 projects have concluded.

Here are some projects still in the works, ranging from smartwatch apps to ebikes and car sharing:


Sensors attached to 12 bicycles in Palo Alto and Dearborn, Michigan, gathered data on cycling patterns and conditions, creating a unique map of the city for cyclists, showing routes popular for offering shade or to be avoided due to potholes and poor lighting.

Principal researcher Sudipto Aich said: “Bikes are a great way to probe the city,” Aich said. “Bike companies are unlikely to do this research.”

From a company-wide contest came a trio of electric-assist bikes: the MoDe:Me personal commuter; MoDe:Flex enthusiast bike and the MoDe:Pro for commercial use like food delivery.

The motorised bikes fold and fit into Ford vehicles. The electric assist ensures you don’t get too sweaty on the trip, can handle hills and safety cross busy intersections or roundabouts, said Tom Thompson, a powertrain engineer in the UK and one of the inventors.

They all use an app that integrates driving, parking, public transportation and cycling into a seamless route. As a safety feature, the bike cannot operate without the owner’s smartphone.

Ford also recently announced the Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing pilot program for 14,000 Ford Credit customers in six US cities and another 12,000 in London.

The programme is in partnership with Getaround, a ride-sharing software company in the US and with easyCar Club in London to hook up renters and users, like an Airbnb for cars.

The pilot will run for six months.

Research shows Gen Y and Z are practical and will embrace the opportunity to share and save money, Fields said.

A survey of rental car users by Enterprise which has the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands, found renters need a car for daily tasks, 27 percent say it prompted them to shop for a new car and two thirds changed their perception of a certain model and considered purchasing a specific nameplate based on the make of their rental car.

Another programme is GoDrive, a public car-sharing pilot that offers one-way car rentals with Focus Electric cars and guaranteed parking in London where spots are elusive. There are 50 cars in 20 locations. You pay as you go, by the minute.

Ford worked with Georgia Tech on the concept of using existing sensors to prevent collisions and repurpose them to look for empty spots. It is a less-expensive solution than parking apps that use videos or require sensors embedded into the pavement.

Another project produced the “painless parking” app that tells you if the spot you find is legal — cities like London change the rules for spots over the course of the day — while offering a seamless way to pay for it.

A third experiment looks at using the cellular network to drive a car by remote control. This virtual valet would drop you off and park itself at an affordable lot further away.

Ford also shared insights from some of its more than 25 original mobility experiments:

Dynamic Shuttle: The on-demand ride-sharing service in New York and London studied how Ford vehicles—in this case, a Transit van—should be modified to make it most accommodating to consumers. People told Ford they want transparent fares and travel times; enough personal space to feel comfortable; amenities such as Wi-Fi; space for small bags; and a less-than-five-minute walk to or from their pick-up and drop-off points. (They did not want to be picked up at their homes.)

Data-Driven Insurance: Creating driver profiles based on behavior behind the wheel, then sharing with insurance providers and rental car companies for more personalised, potentially discounted rates. The researchers found that people like receiving a score, as it allows them to track their progress and improve. However, people don’t want to be told how to drive.

The system works better if drivers see benefits of improving driving habits and are rewarded for changing behavior. The realisation that driver scores and associated driving data have a broader range of application to mobility services.

Ford is also working on an update of the MyFord mobile app for release later this year to be used with the smartwatch to monitor a Ford electric vehicle.

Apple or Android watches can use the app to check charge status, look for available charging stations, trip info, remote start your car, check tyre pressures and alert you to move your fully charged car so you don’t pay a penalty for overstaying.

As cities grow more congested, Ford wants to be there for customers whether they buy, rent or share a car, or use a Ford app to map their trip.


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