The North American International Auto Show has always been about cars, and, well, it probably always will be. But today, cool wheels are less about what’s under the hood and more about what’s in the software.
Tesla is an obvious example: the car is hardware, of course, but its software upgrades allow customers to get major improvements to their driving experience without buying a new vehicle.
Ford, too, is entering that territory. It has Sync—though that is not necessarily above any other “infotainment” system found in other brands—and now it has FordPass.
FordPass is a new platform that, as the company says, “will empower you to rethink the way you move.” Through a collection of personal, digital and physical solutions, FordPass aims to provide drivers with more mobility options so they can “go further” (the company’s slogan).
“Ford always has been motivated to make people’s lives better,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s CEO. “We did it when we put the world on wheels a century ago and we do it now through our strong lineup of cars, SUVs, trucks and electrified vehicles. Today, we take our commitment one step further with the introduction of FordPass, an all-new platform that may be our most revolutionary yet.”
The free platform, slated to launch in April, is comprised of four main pieces: Marketplace, which includes smart parking and other solutions; FordGuides, which offers free live chat with real people; FordHubs, brick-and-mortar experience centres; and Perks, which reward loyal users with various partner rewards. Interestingly, FordPass is an app targeted at all consumers, not just Ford customers.
“As we’ve studied the mobility challenges people face, we designed FordPass to help provide services that make consumers’ lives easier,” said Fields. “FordPass is really about listening to people’s needs and developing ways to help them move better.”
Fields suggested that the impact of FordPass could rival transformational product launches from Apple, such as iTunes.
Ford also announced a wearables research laboratory, where scientists and engineers are working to integrate wearable devices and vehicles to enable driver-assist technologies to be more aware of the driver behind the wheel, such as when that driver is stressed or sleepy.
“As more consumers embrace smart watches, glasses and fitness bands, we hope to develop future applications that work with those devices to enhance in-car functionality and driver awareness,” said Gary Strumolo, global manager for vehicle design and infotronics, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.
Lane-keeping assist, for instance, could become more sensitive if a smart watch sends data to the vehicle that infers the driver didn’t get enough sleep the previous night. Or, if a driver’s heart rate increases as traffic intensifies, the vehicle’s adaptive cruise control or Blind Spot Information System could increase the distance between vehicles – giving the driver some breathing room.
“Wearable technology integrated with the vehicle allows for 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,” added Strumolo.