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Ford and IBM partner to accelerate big data use in vehicles

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Ford and IBM partner to accelerate big data use in vehicles

Car maker also speeding up research into autonomous systems and driver-aiding wearables

Ford is looking to make better use of big data through a partnership with IBM to pilot a platform specifically designed to analyse vehicle data.

The Smart Mobility Experimentation Platform (SMEP) will allow researchers to look at tiny pieces of data, say 10 to 15 seconds’ worth, at a time.

This level of granularity should let researchers spot correlations, patterns and trends in data with more precision. Such analysis will then feed into the creation of code for systems that inform driving decisions, such as taking an optimum route through traffic jams or finding a space in a car park.

Rich Strader, Ford’s director of enterprise and emerging IT, explained that the platform is being developed to make travelling easier for commuters.

“Ford’s SMEP takes huge amounts of information and breaks it down to give consumers better travel experiences,” he said.

The platform will make use of streaming analytics powered by IBM’s Cloud service, which allows the platform to ingest, analyse and update data on a continuous basis.

IBM said that the platform currently underpins Ford’s Dynamic Shuttle Service being piloted in Michigan that provides an on-demand ride sharing service via a mobile app.

The pilot platform allows the Dynamic Shuttle Service to react to situations, such as a malfunction in one of the shuttles, and reroute people to other shuttles or advise them on other more suitable routes and methods of travel.

The partnership with IBM ties in with Ford’s Smart Mobility strategy, which plans to combine connectivity, mobile devices, autonomous cars and systems, big data and analytics to create intelligent services for drivers and other customers.

Gearing up
Ford Sync 3

Ford’s strategy goes beyond mobile apps and big data systems, and includes working with wearable devices.

The car firm has opened a lab at its research centre in Michigan to find ways to explore the growing adoption of smartwatches, fitness bands and smart glasses to assist drivers.

Gary Strumolo, global manager for vehicle design and infotronics at Ford’s research and advanced engineering division, explained that the aim is to link in-car monitoring and driver aids to the data collected by wearables.

“As more consumers embrace smartwatches, glasses and fitness bands, we hope to develop future applications that work with those devices to enhance in-car functionality and driver awareness,” he said.

“Wearable technology integrated with the vehicle allows more accurate biometric data to stream continuously and alert active driver-assist systems to become more sensitive if the driver shows signs of compromised health or awareness.”

For example, Ford said it could look at using smartwatch apps that make use of health data to monitor a driver and determine whether they are stressed or tired.

The information could then be used to inform driver assist systems like cruise control and lane-keeping to take actions such as lengthening the distance between the driver and the vehicles ahead if their heart rate intensifies in heavy traffic conditions.

The lab is also looking at ways to alert drivers when they need to take over from autonomous systems. This could involve sending a vibration or sound alert through a smartwatch to alert the driver about challenging situations on the road ahead such as roadworks or an accident.

Ford is inviting employees to come up with concepts to tap into wearables and car systems that benefit the health and wellness of its customers.

The company is also looking at using voice control for a smartwatch version of the MyFord Mobile app that allows drivers to remotely start, unlock and locate a vehicle. Volvo has already made some headway in this area in a partnership with Microsoft.

Smart glasses, meanwhile, could add a layer of augmented reality to deliver information such as vehicle specifications to people browsing a Ford show room.

Ford is channelling a lot of its car technology efforts into adding functionality to in-car systems and bolstering its Sync infotainment platform with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, but the car maker is also very focused on developing driverless cars and autonomous systems.

The firm has begun testing driverless vehicles in snow-covered environments to improve how autonomous driving systems deal with challenging conditions.

Seemingly aiming criticism at other manufacturers testing driverless cars, Ford claimed that no other car or technology company is testing autonomous systems beyond dry and sunny environments that are ideal for driving.

“It’s one thing for a car to drive itself in perfect weather,” said Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles. “It’s quite another to do so when the car’s sensors can’t see the road because it’s covered in snow.”

To address this, Ford has equipped an F-250 Super Duty with remote sensing laser technology known as Lidar along with high-resolution 3D maps to give the autonomous car more detailed road information so that it can navigate even if signs and markings are obscured.

A report in The Wall Street Journal said that Ford is also looking to make its autonomous car efforts a separate branch of the company and could even see a partnership with Google,which is moving ahead with its own driverless car plans.

Neither company has confirmed any plans for a partnership, but it would mean that one of the largest car makers in the word would be able to share resources with a huge technology company, thereby accelerating the development of driverless cars.

The roads of the future will undoubtedly involve driverless cars, despite some of the concerns and challenges ahead, particularly as many autonomous vehicles are already being showcased and trialled in the US and the UK.

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