Like any other automaker these days, Ford is scrambling to build ever more fuel efficient vehicles without sacrificing drivability. They’re relying heavily on technology to do so, and innovations like Ford’s EcoBoost engine family (which use low pressure turbocharging to enhance power output from small displacement, high compression, direct injection engines) make both power and fuel economy possible. Ford’s using technology to build safer cars, and more than any other automaker they’re scrambling to incorporate the high-tech features car buyers want, without upsetting an ever more stringent NHTSA.
I recently spent the day at Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan home, learning what’s new and what’s in the pipeline from the automaker. I’ve already told you about most of the technologies below, but Ford is constantly working to improve existing systems and vehicle offerings. There may not be much revolutionary technology coming in the short term, but some of the tech on the horizon is impressive stuff. Read on to find out what’s coming in 2012 and beyond.
MyFord Key – introduced in 2009, MyFord Key allows car owners to set limits for other drivers. Intended for families sharing a car with a new driver, MyFord Key allows owners to set a speed limit of 80 miles per hour (the maximum speed limit in the United States), set a maximum audio volume, set speed warning chimes and disable the audio system unless a driver is buckled up. For 2012, MyFord Key will allow owners to set maximum speed limits at 65, 70 or 80 miles per hour, and will also allow owners to block satellite radio stations broadcasting adult content.
Bold Fonts – Ford knows that the target demographic for vehicles like the Edge and the Explorer is the same target demographic for bifocals and reading glasses, so they’re making fonts on control systems larger and bolder. Based on customer research, Ford will roll out bolder fonts on the 2012 Edge and Explorer, followed by other vehicles in the Ford product mix.
Inflatable Rear Seat Belts – Debuted on the 2011 Ford Explorer, inflatable rear seat belts are designed to minimize head, neck and chest injuries to rear seat passengers in the event of an accident. Ford will utilize the inflatable belts in the 2012 Explorer, Flex and selected Lincoln models.
Improved Voice Recognition – One area that Ford gets panned by consumers is the complexity of their SYNC system. That’s a shame, since I find SYNC (and MyFord Touch) to be the easiest to use vehicle interface on the market, primarily due to their redundant controls. Still, consumers don’t want to learn specific dialogue to interface with their cars; “Audio-Satellite Radio-Channel 25,” for example, isn’t as intuitive as “Play Classic Rewind.” Ford knows this, and is working with voice recognition partner Nuance to develop a system that understands both commands and intent. They’re on the right track, since acceptance of voice recognition technology is on the upswing, and since the system now understands 100 times the commands it did just four years ago.
SYNC AppLink – If you own a new Ford Fiesta and have a smartphone, chances are you know about Ford’s SYNC AppLink, which integrates selected apps into your vehicle. Today, Fiesta owners can stream audio via Pandora, news and RSS feeds via Stitcher and can listen to audio versions of tweets via Open Beak. For 2012, Ford is rolling out AppLink to the Fiesta, Fusion, Fusion Hybrid, F-150, Raptor, Super Duty, Mustang Expedition, E-Series, and Shelby GT500. More importantly, they’re planning on a fourfold increase in the Connected Services Solutions organization over the next four years. Look for significant growth in the number of available apps over the coming years, since Ford’s own research shows that 2/3 of smartphone owners expect their vehicles to be “app enabled” in the coming years.
That’s what Ford is introducing for next year, but they’re also working on two technologies worth noting. The first is health and wellness monitoring, which could potentially keep tabs on your heart rate and heart rhythm, your blood glucose levels (for diabetic drivers with implanted monitors) and even air quality and pollen count for those with respiratory conditions. Ultimately, the car could route you to the nearest hospital if you were about to have a heart attack, or it could advise you that your blood sugar level is low and you need to stop for food. It could also route drivers around high pollution areas, preventing possible asthma attacks before they’re triggered.
Most beneficial of all, however, is Ford’s concept of intelligent vehicles and intelligent intersections. By monitoring your vehicle’s location and speed, you car could literally tell you if you were approaching a red light too fast, or if you were about to turn into the path of an oncoming car. Ford estimates that some 81 percent of passenger vehicle crashes could be eliminated if the technology were fully deployed. That’s still years in the future, but the potential is clear and the system will undoubtedly save lives when it is implemented.