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Ford Working to Use Smart Phones to Alert Drivers about Pedestrians, Cyclists


Ford Motor Co. joined a consortium examining the use of smart phones to alert drivers to the presence of cyclists and pedestrians.

Ford is working with other technology companies as well as a few universities on a new technologies.

The company is engaged in a research partnership with Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile and Tome Software. 

The group is looking into developing an affordable smartphone-based communication technology that could potentially warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists and other hazards — even those hidden from direct view of the driver.

Builds on other safety advances

“Newer Ford vehicles already with Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology can detect and help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders and others — and even apply brakes if drivers do not respond in time,” said Jim Buczkowski, executive director, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. 

“We are now exploring ways to expand vehicle sensing capability, for areas drivers cannot see, to help people drive even more confidently on roads increasingly shared by others using their two feet or two wheels.”

Mercedes Bosch AV ride hail car
Automakers have been working for years to develop ever-improving safety systems to detect pedestrians.

The concept involves using a smartphone app, which would run on a pedestrian’s phone, using Bluetooth messaging to alert a Ford vehicle of the pedestrian’s or cyclist’s location. If the vehicle senses a potential crash risk, Ford Sync can alert drivers using the in-vehicle touchscreen showing graphics of pedestrians, bicyclists or with audio alerts sounding. 

The consortium expects to demonstrate the technology at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s World Congress in Los Angeles this week.

Longtime problem

Ford’s effort isn’t a new recognition of the issue within the industry. Automakers have been searching for ways to make the roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists — as well as motorcycles — for years.

Honda experimented with a wireless technology in 2013, dubbed the Dedicated Short-Range Communications system, or DSRC. It was able to track pedestrians and the like, even when outside the line-of-sight of the driver, like behind a parked car.

The system functioned much like today’s advanced driver assistance systems do, flashing a visual message to the driver with an audible warning sound. Honda wasn’t the only automaker looking for ways to reduce crashes and, in particular, spot pedestrians stepping into traffic. Volvo’s City Safety technology has won numerous kudos — and discounts from insurers who find it effective at reducing car-to-car and car-to-pedestrian collisions.

Honda Motorcycle Detection System
Honda’s WiFi-like DSRC system could spot motorcycles and pedestrians even when they’re out of the line of sight.

The technology never reached its full potential as the 5.9 GHz spectrum the system relied on — set aside for automakers in 1999 by federal regulators for this purpose — was reallocated to allow other Wi-Fi-based uses. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last month ruled against the industry’s appeal, which claimed the move endangered pubic safety, of the change in usage, according to Automotive News

Smart phones critical for auto companies

Car makers have something of a love-hate relationship with smartphones.

Smartphones are at the root, according to research and police reports, of an upsurge of traffic fatalities caused by distracted driving where texting while driving is involved. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data estimates traffic fatalities increased 13% to 7,342 in 2021 versus the prior year, while bicyclist traffic fatalities increased 5% — to 1,000 — during the same window.

Traffic fatalities, deaths of pedestrians struck by motor vehicles, are trending up again this year with speeding and distracted driving enabled by smartphones getting much the blame.

Ford Working to Use Smart Phones to Alert Drivers about Pedestrians, Cyclists
Volvo adapted its City Safety collision mitigation system to avoid large animals instead of cyclists.

At the same time, smartphones connections as well as technology such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have brought navigation and entertainment into the vehicle, by passing the more expensive systems offered by car makers. They also could ultimately undercut the efforts of carmakers to sell subscription type services to their retail customers.

At the same time, customers are increasingly interested in having the latest technology on board their vehicles and car makers don’t want to disappoint them. Car makers have obliged by developing smart phone apps unlock vehicles and start them.

“We see other possible applications for this technology, including detecting road construction zones and construction workers,” said Buczkowski. “Ford innovates for the masses, so it’s very promising to start with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology that’s already become part of our everyday lives because it’s affordable and effective,” he added.

By creating a wireless personal area network using radio waves in the 2.4-gigahertz band, the technology can communicate with similarly equipped devices. Already in use in smartphones, it’s compatible with Sync-connected vehicle technology without any hardware changes to the vehicle, according to Ford.

According to Ford, BLE could work with or be linked to other technologies by communicating with other similarly equipped devices. This could be done while allowing for the necessary range to alert drivers about pedestrians, bicyclists and more. It also does not rely on line-of-sight detection like cameras or radar, which means pedestrians and others can be detected while hidden behind obstructions such as buildings, Ford said.

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  • Source: https://www.thedetroitbureau.com/2022/09/ford-working-to-use-smart-phones-to-alert-drivers-about-pedestrians-cyclists/

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