Ford eyes smartphone-based safety tech

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Ford is conducting research on a smartphone-based communications technology that could help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists, and even those approaching a vehicle’s path from a blind spot.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • How can pedestrians and bicyclists be detected by Ford vehicles based on this new technology?

    Per Ford, its new safety technology can detect pedestrians and bicyclists through an app on their smartphones.
  • What technology does the smartphone app and Ford's vehicles use to communicate?

    According to Ford, its vehicles can communicate with pedestrian's and bicyclist's smartphones using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) messaging.
  • Can BLE detect pedestrians and bicyclists behind buildings?

    Yes, Ford explained that BLE can work without relying on line-of-sight detection, which means that pedestrians and others can be detected while hidden behind obstructions such as buildings.
  • “Newer Ford vehicles already with Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology can detect and help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders, and others — and even apply brakes if drivers do not respond in time. We are now exploring ways to expand vehicle sensing capability, for areas drivers cannot see, to help people drive even more confidently on roads increasingly shared by others using their two feet or two wheels,” said Ford Research and Advanced Engineering Executive Director Jim Buczkowski.

    Ford logo

    Per the Blue Oval brand, the concept works by using a smartphone app running on a pedestrian’s phone. The application uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) messaging to communicate their location to a connected Ford vehicle.

    If the vehicle calculates a potential crash risk, Ford SYNC can alert drivers by the in-vehicle screen showing graphics of pedestrians, bicyclists, or more with audio alerts sounding.

    BLE, Ford noted, has numerous advantages, making it an ideal catalyst for its recent safety project. One of which is BLE’s ability to work without relying on line-of-sight detection, unlike cameras or radar. What this means is that pedestrians and others can be detected while hidden behind obstructions such as buildings.

    In addition, BLE is widely available, is found on most smartphones, and is compatible with SYNC-connected vehicle technology without any hardware changes to the vehicle.

    BLE is a commonly-used technology in personal electronic devices, including smartphones, fitness monitoring devices, location-based services, entertainment, and much more. It uses very low power with batteries as small as dimes to operate for a very long time. Consumer BLE applications commonly involve pairing two devices. But Ford’s concept uses BLE as a beacon capable of sensing multiple other similarly equipped devices in range without pairing.

    Ford explained that the system can differentiate pedestrians from bicyclists and others based on their traveling speed, and further evaluate risk by their direction. BLE devices rapidly change communications channels — called frequency hopping — in the 2.4 GHz radio band to minimize interference.

    “We see other possible applications for this technology, including detecting road construction zones and construction workers. Ford innovates for the masses, so it’s very promising to start with Bluetooth Low Energy technology that’s already become part of our everyday lives because it’s affordable and effective,” Buczkowski added.

    Ford, Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile, and Tome Software are demonstrating the technology at the ongoing Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s World Congress in Los Angeles this week.

    Photos from Ford

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