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Ford’s predictions for the next wave of automotive electronics innovation

John Day

John Day

Posted Dec 24, 2012
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State-of-the-art sensing, computing and communications systems are quickly changing consumer expectations in people’s everyday lives, and are also driving innovation in the automotive industry at an incredible pace, according to Ford vice president and chief technical officer Paul Mascarenas.

Mascarenas leads the team that has been researching and developing new technologies for Ford vehicles, particularly in the areas of driver assistance and mobile device connectivity. He says the new Fusion sedan “features an unprecedented level of sensors for its driver assist technologies, machine learning techniques to deliver more electric-only driving on the hybrids, and innovative graphical interfaces to help coach drivers to be as fuel efficient as possible.”

With more than 145 actuators, 4716 signals, and 74 sensors including radar, sonar, cameras, accelerometers, temperature and even rain sensors, the 2013 Fusion can monitor the perimeter around the car and see into places that are not readily visible from the driver’s seat. The sensors produce more than 25 gigabytes of data per-hour that is analyzed by more than 70 on-board computers. The actuators combined with signal information from the driver assist sensors can alert the driver to potential dangers, and actively assist with parking and lane keeping.

“So far we’ve just scratched the surface of what is possible,” says Mascarenas. “In the Fusion, we have sensors and actuators that act independently as part of the assist features. The next phase, currently in research, involves sensor fusion, where engineers learn how to more comprehensively characterize the environment by blending multiple signals, and add externally available information through cloud connectivity.”

According to Mascarenas’ predictions, top areas for car technology innovation in the coming years will include:

  • “Big data” analysis and intelligent decision making: Ford is researching the use of real-time sensor data – radar and camera-based – that can help evaluate external factors affecting driver attention, such as traffic congestion, and thus limit potential distractions, such as an incoming phone call;
  • Upgradeable, customizable hardware: Ford’s OpenXC research platform looks at the potential for open-source, community-driven innovation of plug-and-play hardware modules that provide infinite opportunities for rapid customization;
  • Seamless integration across cloud ecosystems: The success of Ford SYNC® has been linked to its open, agnostic platform strategy that has allowed for adoption and compatibility with the burgeoning mobile ecosystem; the next step is to do the same for the consumer shift toward cloud-based services;
  • Advanced machine learning: The new Fusion and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrids utilize EV+, a feature that learns the typical locations of charging, such as home and office, and then automatically maximizes electric-only driving mode when nearing those locations;
  • Biometrics: Ford is researching biometric sensors, such as those embedded in a car seat, to measure stress levels for a more personalized response from driver assist technologies, because skill levels – and thus stress – can vary in certain situations;
  • Prediction: Ford researchers are looking at ways to predict driver behavior, such as a driver’s destination based on prior history, to help optimize and configure vehicle controls for improved performance such as, better energy management;
  • Rapid data authentication: Ford sees significant potential in vehicle-to-vehicle communications and is actively researching the technology globally, including advanced Wi-Fi® with rapid authentication capability so that cars can exchange information quickly and securely, helping drivers avoid potential collisions.

“All of these areas of research are well within our reach,” concludes Mascarenas. “The key to readiness and implementation in Ford vehicles is ensuring the customer experience of these technology features trumps the technology itself.”

Ford, Fusion sedan, Automotive Electronics, Wi-Fi, Paul Mascarenas, vehicle-to-vehicle communications

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News (johndayautomotivelectronics.com) to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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