Cleantech
Ford Testing Autonomous Hybrids in California, Sensors for Mobility Data in Rural Africa

The Ford Motor Company is ‘going further’ with its Smart Mobility Plan, which focuses on innovation in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and data and analytics. Two recent developments include the use of sensor technology on motorcycles to collect mobility data in Africa, and autonomous vehicle testing on public roads in the US.

Ford is working with Riders for Health, an international social enterprise that manages and maintains vehicles for health-focused organizations in sub-Saharan Africa, to improve the delivery of medical care to rural communities. 50 Riders for Health motorcycles are being equipped with sensor kits that will collect GPS data.

The sensor kits use Ford’s OpenXC open-source hardware and software technology to collect real-time data from vehicles. Riders for Health’s Ford Ranger pickup trucks are already equipped with OpenXC technology; the addition of the motorcycle data will enable the organization to have a more complete picture of its fleet and improve its logistics.

“OpenXC started as a project to make a car send a tweet five years ago, but has since become a platform, or an ‘Internet of mobility’ that allows us to use data to better understand how people move around the world,” said Ken Washington, VP Research and Advanced Engineering at Ford.

“Now, the same open innovation mentality behind OpenXC has inspired our team to create a sensor kit for bicycles and motorcycles to learn how other transportation options might best serve people in urban, suburban and rural areas, including improving their health.”

The sensor kits will enables Riders for Health to map coordinates, track stops, timing and routes to better reach those in need of vaccines, medications and live-saving hospital care. For the first time, the data is also being used to create maps of remote regions. In the long term, this will help emergency and ambulance service providers improve their efficiency as well.

The Palo Alto office is also ramping up the company’s 10-year autonomous vehicle development program by taking it to the streets. Ford recently announced its enrollment in the California Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program, which permits self-driving Ford Fusion Hybrid sedans to navigate California streets in 2016.

Ford’s Silicon Valley presence has grown from a 15-person office in 2012 to a research and development center with a team of more than 100 researchers, engineers and scientists. The new research lab opened in January 2015.

“Our Palo Alto team has grown significantly this year, using research and innovation to explore and develop future mobility solutions,” said Ford president and CEO Mark Fields. “We’re attracting top talent from around the world to join our team in Silicon Valley, including employees from local technology companies and universities who want to make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves.”

Ford submitted a record number of patent applications in 2015, with employees submitting nearly 6,000 inventions for patent consideration — a 36 percent increase from 2014. The company’s research and development has ranged in focus from electric vehicle batteries to biomimicry solutions, to coating technologies that enhance remanufacturing potential, to wearables and more. Earlier this year, Ford also announced a compressed natural gas (CNG)/propane conversion option for the 2016 F-150 that could reduce the vehicle’s CO2 emissions by 20 percent.

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