Firm also claims to have invented new system that is 'the iTunes for cars'
11 January 2016

Ford has announced a series of new technology advancements, features and research projects at the Detroit motor show, including a study into how autonomous cars perform in snowy and wintery conditions.

Ford, which has a test fleet of 30 autonomous vehicles, is now testing autonomous vehicles in adverse weather conditions at the Universiy of Michigan’s ‘Mcity’ test facility, a 32-acre site that simulates a real-world urban environment.

The Ford test vehicles involved in the study don’t rely on typical GPS data or laser sensors to help navigate a snow-covered environment, they instead use high-resolution 3D maps that know all about the road and what’s above it, including signs, markings, buildings, landmarks, geography and topography.

This allows the car to know where it is in an environment even if road markings or signs are covered in snow, as it instead detects landmarks above the ground to pinpoint its exact location. 

Ford is also developing software that will allow an autonomous car to detect deteriorating weather conditions, and decide whether it is safe to continue driving autonomously or not.

Another project announced today is the opening of the ‘Automotive Wearable Experiences’ lab at Ford’s R&D centre in Dearborn, Michigan. 

This facility will look at wearable technology such as smart watches, fitness bracelets, and glasses, and how they can integrate with a car’s active safety features to allow the car to be more aware of a driver’s current physical and mental state. 

Examples of what this lab will investigate include making a lane-keep assist system more sensitive if wearable technology tells the car the driver didn’t get enough sleep the night before.

The Automotive Wearable Experiences lab is also investigating a driver being able to use voice controls through wearable smart watches, and using smart glasses to enhance the dealership experience by giving the user more information on a vehicle in front of them. 

Ford is also claiming to have created what it calls 'the iTunes for cars' with the launch of its FordPass system. The free platform, which launches in April, gives users access to a range of mobility services, such as software that finds parking spaces, and allows users to participate in car sharing and rental schemes.

It also includes access to ‘FordGuides’, a free-to-use mobility assistant whose role is to “guide, serve and help to solve mobility challenges – not to sell”, according to Ford. The FordPass system will be the gateway to starting live chats with FordGuides.

Other features include the ability to connect directly with dealers to book servicing, and control certain functions of a car remotely through the Ford SYNC Connect infotainment system. 

As part of the FordPass system, Ford will also open FordHubs in major cities around the world, including in London, “where consumers will be able to explore Ford’s latest innovations, learn about the company’s mobility services and experience exclusive events”, according to the company. 

A new pilot scheme announced today by Ford also allows families, neighbours or groups of three to six people to share the lease cost of a Ford vehicle depending on how often they use it.

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