The Forward With Ford conference last month in California showcased new technology the company has in the pipeline for consumers, amazing new electronics and products that soon will be commonplace in vehicles on the road today.
Ford has hosted the conference for the last five years in Deerborn, MI, but this year moved it to San Francisco so journalists could be bused to Silicon Valley to visit the company’s new Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto.
Connectivity, cameras, radar, lasers and the development of autonomous vehicles make up the technology of future automobiles. Ford is among the leaders to develop autonomous vehicles and executives say driverless cars will be common on U.S. highways in five years.
“Ford has been working on developing an autonomous vehicle since the early 1940s during World War II,” said Jim Buczkowski, director of electric and electronics systems research and advanced engineering for Ford. “We are not following in the footsteps of other companies, though we do know what they are doing.”
Buczkowski said experimental self-driving cars have been operating on public streets in recent years, all packed with laser, radar, sonar and video sensors to give them a 360-degree view of the road ahead and behind. After logging over a million miles on California roadways, there have been no serious accidents involving them and the driverless cars even prevented some crashes. Only eight minor fender benders involving driverless cars have been recorded, most caused by a car with a human driver.
Ford used a San Francisco Embarcadero parking lot to demonstrate technology that allows cars to park themselves.
The technology was smooth and seamless in either automatically backing a Ford Edge into a vacant space with vehicles parked on either side of it, or parallel parking the SUV in a simulated space.
A Ford technician demonstrated the ease of parking a vehicle using an iPhone and an Apple Watch while standing outside the vehicle. New perpendicular park assist uses 12 ultrasonic sensors to guide the vehicle into a parking space. And, parallel park assist systems scan the left and the right sides of streets to find the appropriately sized space before steering the vehicle right in to it.
Auto writers were introduced to MyFordMobile and accompanying “wearable” research involving Apple’s new Watch and similar Android wear, which enables tracking the charge on a battery in an EV. Also, the new Open XC, a data focused hardware and software platform, allows steering, wheel motion, engine torque and transmission position data to be tracked with readable mobile or web applications.
The development of green products by Ford’s chemistry research department was a standout at the conference. Headed by Debbie Mielewski, the chemistry team has achieved amazing accomplishments in creating useable products from vegetable waste. One example was their work with the giant food processor, Heinz, and the tons of unusable waste in the form tomato skins, stems and seeds left from the manufacture of thousands of gallons of ketchup every month. Mielewski saw a use for the waste and asked Heinz to send it to her research and development department. After a few years of trial and error, her chemists reconstituted the waste into a material stronger and lighter than plastic that is now used to make center consoles, cupholders and holding trays for Ford vehicles.
Mielewski’s team has developed many breakthroughs for use of waste, including a technique to recycle plastic bottles into a useable material that is used to manufacture seats; a way to reconstitute rice hull waste into a material suitable for use as a vehicle electrical wiring harness; and a chemical formula to turn soy beans into a quality foam rubber used today to for the seats in every Mustang built.
Ford technicians also demonstrated SYNC 3, the next generation of voiceactivated technology that helps you keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. SYNC lets you use your voice to answer or dial a call, listen to music and select apps with AppLink. It is faster, has a more intuitive touch screen and an easy-to-understand graphic interface to help drivers connect and control their smartphone.
Other new highlights include Siri Eyes- Free capability for iPhone users, overthe- air software updates using Wi-Fi and enhanced 911 Assist.
But, regardless of all the technology at the conference, the hit of Further With Ford was the beautiful new aerodynamic 2017 Ford GT, itself a technical marvel with a 600 hp engine and carbon-fiber construction and body panels. The new GT is poised and take up the chase for another LeMans cup. No doubt it will be the star of next year’s Ford technology conference.