As Ford's fuel-efficient vehicles gain momentum in California and could spread nationwide, company researchers are showcasing what could be next - intelligent vehicles that wirelessly talk to each other to reduce crashes and the billions of gallons of gas wasted in congestion each year.
Today, Ford convened a panel of auto industry, transportation and technology visionaries at Dodger Stadium to experience the technology and discuss how intelligent vehicles could soon lead to breakthroughs in a more sustainable transportation system. On June 1, Ford will conduct a similar event in San Francisco.
"Intelligent vehicles are the next frontier of collision avoidance innovations that could revolutionize the driving experience and hold the potential of helping reduce many crashes," said Sue Cischke, group vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering.
An October, 2010 NHTSA report on the potential safety benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle communications estimates that intelligent vehicles could help in as many as 4.3 million police-reported, light-vehicle crashes annually, or approximately 81 percent of all light-vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers. Experts say intelligent vehicles could be on the road in the near future.
Ford is the first automaker to build functional prototype vehicles to preview the technology, and is conducting a series of events across the country to explore the real-life benefits and near-term feasibility to save drivers' lives, fuel and time spent on the road. In addition to Los Angeles, Ford's demonstration tour has stopped in Washington, DC and New York, NY and will visit San Francisco on June 1.
Ford's vehicle communications research technology allows vehicles to talk wirelessly with one another using advanced Wi-Fi signals, or dedicated short-range communications, on a secured channel allocated by the Federal Communications Commission. Unlike radar-based safety features, which identify hazards within a direct line of sight, the Wi-Fi-based radio system allows full-range, 360-degree detection of potentially dangerous situations, such as when a driver's vision is obstructed.
For example, drivers could be alerted if their vehicle is on path to collide with another vehicle at an intersection, when a vehicle ahead stops or slows suddenly or when a traffic pattern changes on a busy highway. The systems also could warn drivers if there is a risk of collision when changing lanes, approaching a stationary or parked vehicle, or if another driver loses control.
By reducing crashes, intelligent vehicles could ease traffic delays, which would save drivers both time and fuel costs. Congestion also could be avoided through a network of intelligent vehicles and infrastructure that would process real-time traffic and road information and allow drivers to choose less congested routes.
According to Texas Transportation Institute's (TTI) 2010 Urban Mobility Report, traffic congestion continues to worsen in American cities of all sizes, annually wasting nearly 3.9 billion gallons of fuel in 2009 and costing the average Los Angeles commuter $1,464. Leading factors in traffic delays are caused by accidents, breakdowns and road debris, TTI maintains.
"We are not far from the day when vehicles will operate like mobile devices with four wheels, constantly exchanging information and communicating with our environment to do things like shorten commute times, improve fuel economy and generally help us more easily navigate life on the road," said Paul Mascarenas, vice president, Ford Research and Innovation and chief technical officer. "A smart network of intelligent vehicles has the potential to benefit drivers in many ways."
Ford is already delivering top fuel economy performance for drivers with at least 12 vehicles that lead their sales segments in fuel economy - including four vehicles with EPA-certified 40 mpg or higher fuel economy ratings - a claim no other full-line automaker can match. Ford's comprehensive sustainability plan also includes a full family of electrified vehicles, with five new electrified vehicles planned for North America by 2012 and Europe by 2013. Ford launched the Transit Connect Electric small commercial van in 2010, and in addition to the Focus Electric in late 2011, will introduce C-MAX Hybrid, a second next-generation lithium-ion battery hybrid and the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid in 2012.
After a decade of research, Ford announced earlier this year an accelerated development of its intelligent vehicle work, doubling its research investment and convening a new 20-member task force - consisting of company planners, engineers and scientists from around the world with expertise in safety, eco-mobility, infotainment and driver conveniences. The goal is to define the next 10 years of safety, convenience and driver assistance, and strengthen the company's position as the global industry leader in connected vehicle technology.
"While there are challenges ahead, the foundation of these smarter vehicles is advanced versions of technologies that are pervasive - Wi-Fi and crash avoidance systems that Ford has pioneered in mainstream vehicles today," said Mascarenas. "Intelligent vehicles could help warn drivers of numerous potential dangers such as a car running a red light but blocked from the view of a driver properly entering the intersection."
Ford is partnering with other automakers and the federal government, as well as local and county road commissions, to create a common language that ensures all vehicles can talk to each other based on a common communication standard.
This public-private partnership will include the world's first government-sponsored driving clinics beginning in summer 2011, for which the company will contribute two prototype Ford Taurus sedans. The DOT's Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) will head the research, continuing to coordinate with a coalition of automakers organized by the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP), which is a joint research group headed by Ford and General Motors. The partnership is working to develop inter-operability standards in advance of completing the research phase in 2013.
"Ford has laid the groundwork to give vehicles a voice with SYNC and Wi-Fi technology," said Jim Vondale, director, Ford Automotive Safety Office. "Now we're working with other automakers and government leaders worldwide to develop common standards globally to bring intelligent vehicles to market quicker and more affordably."
Vondale has been appointed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to represent automakers on the ITS Advisory Committee. Mike Shulman, technical leader, Ford Research and Innovation, leads the government-industry technical partnership as program manager for CAMP.