Chris Price talks to Joseph Beiser, Ford’s Director Connected Services, Asia Pacific, Africa, and Europe about the opportunities for using high speed data and integrating more automation facilities in our automobiles.
Do you think that our cars will become a 4G hotspot where you can access high speed data through a plug and play in car device, such as the one EE has just announced?
At Ford we have a bit of a different approach. One of our goals is to give the customer the ultimate in personalisation so we rely on the customer’s own smart phone for a lot of our technology. We believe when the customer is in the car they have their smart phone with them and so a lot of their personalised content is already with them.
Rather than have a user have a different account and subscription for in car we tend to rely on the smart phone. So as soon as 4G is available to the user on their network they can get it in the car through their mobile phone.
So what level of integration do you offer between your mobile phone and the car. Can you for example sync your phone’s display with the one in the car?
Right now we don’t sync the phone with the display directly. We have a technology coupled with our SYNC platform called AppLink which allows users to control their smart phone apps from the vehicle’s controls so they can control apps using either their voice or the steering wheel buttons.
To display images from the phone to the car there are several different technologies. For example, we have publicly announced we will in the future support Apple Car Play. With this the user could have mobile navigation on their phone and that same mobile navigation would display on the car’s display.
What about music streaming? Can Ford play music from your smart phone through the in car entertainment system?
We have several media streaming apps around the globe. What I find exciting is that because of our technology choice we can offer a variety of music streaming services to different customers around the world. So, for example, in the US there are many Spotify fans, many Pandora fans and other various types of music services. They all work in our car so it’s not like we as the car manufacturer have to write the software and put it in the car. We utilise the smart phone app and provide the linking technology between the smart phone and the car.
Do you think that having always on data in the car could be used to assist emergency services in the case of an accident?
We already have a feature call emergency assistance. What this does is use the driver’s mobile phone and dials the emergency services directly. We do that around the globe, including North America, Europe and Asia. There are a couple of things we are currently working through including legislation in Europe on the e-call (an initiative intended to bring rapid assistance to motorists involved in a collision anywhere in the European Union). What the EU is working on is not only legislation for placing that emergency call, but also sending data relevant to the accident, like how many seat belts were fastened, what was the deceleration rate of the accident. This information would give the public services more professional data to bring the right equipment and the right personnel to really help that driver.
Surely one possible opportunity is being able to offer a video facility so the paramedics can see into the vehicle and determine more accurately what has happened to the driver and passengers in the accident?
I think it’s a nice idea, but obviously across Europe we have to be very careful because of privacy concerns. One of the things we currently do with our emergency assist function is take control of the microphone in order to speak vai our automated SYNC system to the emergency services directly. We can tell them that an accident has occurred in the Ford vehicle, giving them information such as the location, just in case the driver can not speak for themselves. It’s a feature that’s available on all Ford cars with SYNC – our ‘infotainment’ system that provides the voice recognition system and the features for bluetooth calling and MP3 playing. SYNC is now seven years old and by next year we’ll have 14 million cars on the road with this facility.
Ford has demonstrated prototype cars with obstacle avoidance technology. But how long do you think it will be before we see a fully automated car like the one Google recently revealed?
I think it’s difficult to give an exact timeline on this, but we’ve already got various technologies in our cars to help drivers with everything from staying in lane to slowing them down if there’s traffic ahead. We continue to evolve these technologies. For example at Mobile World Congress this year we did showcase our automated vehicle which has the techology to see its surroundings 360 degrees. But we still see the driver as part of the equation long term. I liken it to planes. I recognise that a plane is very automated but you still like to have a pilot there. I certainly envision a day when driving will be that much easier and much smoother for the driver.
What do you see as the big challenges for the automated vehicle?
As an industry we need to continue to evolve some of the vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communication because a vehicle by itself trying to identify its surroundings is not quite optimal. We need other vehicles to talk to it so we can learn more about the vehicle’s surroundings – that’s more important than what it can see. Earlier this month at Computex in Taiwan we showcased a technology where a vehicle could avoid another vehicle which is travelling perpendicular to it and which the driver couldn’t possibly be able to avoid without the aid of this technology.