AACHEN, Germany – Ford Motor Company is researching and developing intelligent, next-generation driving technologies designed to help address future mobility challenges that come with rapid urbanisation and population growth around the world.
Ford’s early prototypes of two such technologies – Traffic Jam Assist and an advanced version of Active Park Assist evolved to deliver perpendicular parking – are designed to interact with a vehicle’s surroundings, reduce driver stress and help reduce traffic gridlock.
“Developing these technologies is part of the first step in a journey towards a more connected future,” said Paul Mascarenas, Ford’s chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Innovation. “It’s an undertaking we believe will save time, conserve resources, lower emissions and improve safety.”
Ford is developing the technologies around the world, including its European Research and Advanced Engineering Centre in Aachen, Germany. Ford’s “Blueprint for Technology” vision, outlined by Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford earlier this year, defines the start of the company’s thinking on what transportation may look like in 2025 and beyond, and the technologies, business models and partnerships needed to address the challenges of population growth and urbanisation.
Traffic Jam Assist
Traffic Jam Assist is an intelligent driving technology that Ford is developing potentially for the mid-term (2017 to 2025). It uses radar and camera technology to keep pace with other vehicles and provide automated steering control to stay in the current lane, reducing driver stress and potentially improving vehicle flow.
“Drivers spend more than 30 percent of their time in heavy traffic,” said Joseph Urhahne, engineer, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. “Traffic Jam Assist could help make travelling through congestion a more relaxing experience and, by using Ford technology to keep pace with the flow of traffic, potentially help relieve road congestion.”
Individual simulation studies have found that where 25 percent of vehicles on a stretch of road are equipped to automatically follow the traffic ahead, journey times can be reduced by 37.5 percent and delays reduced by 20 percent.
Traffic Jam Assist has the potential to follow the traffic ahead while maintaining lane position in environments where there are no pedestrians, cyclists or animals, and where lanes are clearly marked.
Many of the sensing technologies required to deliver Traffic Jam Assist are already available on current Ford models including Focus, C-MAX and Grand C-MAX. Independent steering already features on both Ford Active Park Assist, which controls vehicle steering for hands-free parking, and Lane Keeping Aid, which provides steering input to assist the driver to steer the vehicle back into lane if an unintentional drift is detected. Lane Keeping Aid also provides the camera technology required to monitor its lane position.
Traffic Jam Assist’s automatic speed regulation requirement is supported by Ford Powershift transmission as well as Adaptive Cruise Control, a radar-based system which helps to maintain a set distance to other vehicles.
“If there’s one thing more frustrating than being stuck in a jam, it’s being stuck in a jam where drivers are slow to keep pace with the movement around them,” Urhahne said. “Traffic Jam Assist could make unavoidable traffic jams less stressful and less tiring for the drivers who must negotiate them.”
Traffic Jam Assist would be able to respond to changing traffic situations ahead and communicate any developments to the driver. Traffic Jam Assist would also incorporate features to help ensure the driver remains alert and in contact with the vehicle controls, even when the system was active. It could also be overridden at any time.
In the near-term, Ford plans to further develop its Active Park Assist technology, a popular feature that allows drivers to parallel park without touching the wheel. Ford is adding perpendicular parking to the parallel parking manoeuvres already possible.
“The idea is not only to make parking as quick as possible, but also to make it as accurate, efficient and undemanding as possible – and that means exploring new concepts and approaches.” said Thomas Lukaszewicz, supervisor, Research and Advanced Engineering, Ford of Europe.
The enhanced system would harness the technologies introduced with Active Park Assist. It uses ultrasonic sensors to identify suitable parking spaces, for width rather than length, and then steers the vehicle into them using Ford’s Electronic Power Assisted Steering system.
Active Park Assist is activated by pressing a centre console button. When a suitable space is detected, the system will advise the driver to stop, with an audible and visual warning. The driver will then be told to engage reverse and operate the clutch and brakes while the car controls the steering wheel.
Perpendicular parking functionality would use the vehicle’s rear Parking Distance Control sensors to monitor for obstructions not seen by the driver when reversing into the space.
Where there is insufficient space to complete the manoeuvre in one attempt, the system might ask the driver to edge forwards and backwards as necessary. When perfectly parked, the driver gets a finish signal.
“The key is that we already have the technologies that we need to make Active Park Assist with Perpendicular Parking Functionality a reality for Ford customers,” said Lukaszewicz. “The system benefits customers and other road users with its speed and accuracy. Straighter, neater parking means more space for all.”
“Blueprint for Mobility”
Bill Ford outlined the company’s “Blueprint for Mobility” in a February keynote address at the 2012 Mobile World Conference in Barcelona.
Ford’s executive chairman and the great-grandson of Henry Ford said the company responding to forecasts that show the 1 billion cars on the road today could double, or even quadruple, by mid-century.
“We’ll increasingly take advantage of the car as a rolling collection of sensors to reduce congestion and help prevent accidents,” Ford said at Mobile World Congress. “I’m confident that we will see many of these advances on the road in this mid-term period because the early versions are already being designed, and in most cases, tested.”
Traffic gridlock is already becoming a reality in expanding vehicle markets around the world. In Sao Paulo, traffic jams regularly exceed 100 miles and the average commute lasts between 2 and 3 hours a day. Despite this, car buying is growing at a rate of 7.5 percent annually. In China, the world’s longest traffic jam was registered at 11 days during 2010.
The problem is not restricted to emerging markets. It is estimated that the cost of congestion to the economy in England through lost time will rise to around $35 billion (€26 billion) annually by 2025. In Germany, sustaining a town of 300,000 people is estimated to require 1,000 truck deliveries daily.