The Ford Motor Company opened a research and innovation center here in January this year because it wanted to begin – and continue – working with partners (in tech) who have the same vision of the future.
This includes focussing on autonomous vehicle technology, 3D printing of automotive-grade parts, and wearable tech development with the MyFord Mobile app (coming to smartwatches). The event took place at the HP HQ, whom Ford has partnered with.
Don Butler, Ford’s executive director addressed various media from across the world saying IT is no longer the “how” in how to do business… “IT – from being an enabler to IT being a product”. He added that IT needs to be “non-intrusive and non-threatening” in an increasingly connected world.
Ford’s Sheryl Connelly says “IT strategy and business strategy is now one; not separate”. Ford will be making use of HP’s big data for its research and projects. It’s currently working on 25 different projects.
Ford’s global director for Electrification and Infrastructure Mike Tinskey spoke about the challenges around congestion, parking, changing behaviours and how the company plans to address them. He touched on a project Ford is working on where it studies parking data in the form of recognizing patterns and how people behave. The result is Parking Spotter that helps drivers identify open parking spots. Ford vehicles that have ultrasonic sensors on the vehicle will map out parking areas from both sides of the vehicles and upload this data to the cloud to provide a real time database. Tinskey said Ford is excited about it because it’s low cost and software based.
Other topics he spoke about was remote repositioning using 4G network to send compressed live video footage to remotely drive a vehicle (not sure I understood this properly); and energy – using tech to reduce energy by changing customers behavior patterns like switching from gas to electric and charging appliances to when rates are lower (middle of the night).
Another Ford executive, Dr Ken Washington, who I heard at Mobile World Congress, spoke about how automation and robotics are changing the way we live. He says it’s clear that autonomy tech will have a profound impact in our lives and it already has. “It has accelerated and opened up new opportunities. He touched on Ford’s research and usage of this with driver assist, semi autonomy and fully autonomy.
Ford’s driver assist already informs the driver of stuff that is happening, like collision warnings, blind spot information, driver alert and lane departure warning. Semi autonomy includes existing traffic jam assist, adaptive cruise control (which I experienced on the Ford Fusion), lane keeping system and pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection. Full autonomous driving will be coming from Ford as it has officially left the R&D phase and has now entered advanced engineering program. Washington added that with the right combination of weather and maps, it will become a reality within the next 5 years.
Once the conference was over, we visited the SAP office and Ford’s research and innovation centre in Silicon Valley.
I got to try the Oculus Rift (more like jumped to this station first out of 7 different ones with various topics and demos):
Here’s another pic to show you that it makes you look ridiculous from any angle 😀
Seriously though, it was amazing. I’ve tried Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Glass before, and had the same level of excitement.
Then we headed to Ford’s research and innovation centre nearby:
(Oh did I mention there were Mustangs EVERYWHERE).
Once inside, we got to see various demos like Info Cycling (saw this at Mobile World Congress), the Internet of Transportation (open source hardware for Ford drivers), 3D printing (Ford is working on prototypes to print their own parts) and Lose it (vehicles on a diet – see below). Ford is also working on its own Internet of Thing project with Nest, still in the testing phase where you can control your thermostat from your Ford vehicle – very cool. It will work with Sync 3, AppLink and open source hardware.
Above left is the Fusion that’s the same weight as the Fiesta! Ford is using smarter materials to make their cars stronger and lighter. And on the right is a 3.5L carbon fibre Ford GT – just a research vehicle, and the most photographed one today! (Mustang, we’re coming for you tomorrow!).
It’s been a long day, with lots to take in. Ford also brought in some excellent speakers – young, talented, brilliant minds; very inspiring. By far my favourite panel of the day:
I’m looking forward to what’s lined up tomorrow!
(Goodnight San Francisco and good morning South Africa).