Ford has set its sights to be on the Technology Road as the number of vehicles on the roads is forecast to grow from today's 1 billion to up to 4 billion by mid-century.
Earlier this year, Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford told an audience of the Mobile World Congress that Ford is outlining the company's "Blueprint for Mobility" to address future vehicle gridlock by creating a global transportation network that utilizes communication between vehicles, transport infrastructure and individual mobile devices.
Ford explained that no one company or industry would be able to solve the mobility issue alone. And, the effectiveness of any plan would be contingent on customer acceptance of new technologies.
Ford predicted, "If we do nothing, we face the prospect of 'global gridlock', a never-ending traffic jam that wastes time, energy and resources and even compromises the flow of commerce and healthcare." He continued, "The cooperation needed between the automotive and telecommunications industries will be greater than ever as we prepare for and manage the future. We will need to develop new technologies, as well as new ways of looking at the world."
With the fast-paced increase in in-vehicle technologies, we can see that the telecommunications industry is critical in the creation of an inter-connected transportation system where cars are intelligent and can talk to one another as well as the infrastructure around them. Ford's suggestion is that now is the time for us to be looking at vehicles on the road the same way we look at smartphones, laptops and tablets; as pieces of a much bigger, richer network.
The company's "Blueprint for Mobility" will seek solutions for a problem that is already becoming a reality in expanding vehicle markets around the world. In Sao Paulo, traffic jams regularly exceed 100 miles long and the average commute lasts between 2 and 3 hours a day. Despite this, car buying is growing at a rate of 7.5 percent annually. In China, the world's longest period of gridlock was registered at 11 days during 2010.
The problem is not restricted to emerging markets, either. For example, it is estimated that the cost of congestion to the economy in England through lost time will rise to around $35 billion annually by 2025. In Germany, sustaining a town of 300,000 people is estimated to require 1,000 truck deliveries daily.
Solving the issue of urban mobility is a huge challenge that will only be successful if government collaboration, infrastructure development and industry come together globally.
Ford said with the company's blueprint will set near, mid- and long-term goals for significant reductions in the company's global environmental footprint.
In the next 5 to 7 years, Ford plans to be at the forefront of developing increasingly intuitive in-car mobile communications options and driver interfaces that proactively alert drivers to traffic jams and accidents. They have already successfully experimented with this technology in England and in Germany.
Another near term plan is to deliver a better-connected, safer and more efficient driving experience with limited autonomous functions for parking and driving in slow-moving traffic - building on existing Ford features including Active Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Active City Stop. Many Ford vehicle's already have the foundation of this technology and some can even be "upgraded" to offer ways to let a driver move through traffic jams in a more efficient and safe manner with the car essentially driving on auto pilot.
Within the next five to ten years, Ford will introduce semi-autonomous driving technology including driver-initiated "auto pilot" capabilities and vehicle platooning in limited situations - technologies that will provide improved safety and driver assistance features, but allow the driver to take control, if needed.
They also plan to increase interaction between individual cars on the road through utilization of ever-increasing computing power and numbers of sensors in vehicles, helping reduce the number of accidents at intersections and enabling limited semi-autonomous and autonomous highway lane changing and exiting.
And, the arrival of vehicle-to-cloud and vehicle-to infrastructure communication that contributes to greater time and energy efficiency by enabling vehicles to recommend alternative transport options when congestion is unavoidable and to pre-reserve parking at destinations.
Ford told the mobility conference, "Cars are becoming mobile communications platforms and as such, they are a great untapped opportunity for the telecommunications industry. Right now, there are a billion computing devices in the form of individual vehicles out on our roads. They're largely unconnected from one another and the network."
He continued, "We'll increasingly take advantage of the car as a rolling collection of sensors to reduce congestion and help prevent accidents. I'm confident that we will see many of these advances on the road in this mid-term period because the early versions are already being designed, and in most cases, tested."
Long term plans call for radically different transportation landscape where pedestrian, bicycle, private car, commercial and public transportation traffic will be woven into a single connected network to save time, conserve resources, lower emissions and improve safety.
This would include smart vehicles capable of fully autonomous navigation, with increased "auto pilot" operating duration, plus the arrival of autonomous valet functions, delivering effortless vehicle parking and storage. Obviously there may be many changes on the technology horizon. It's good to see that one of America's innovative automobile companies is at the forefront helping to set new world standards that can make driving safer, more efficient and more enjoyable for everyone.
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