Get in a BMW, a Mercedes or an Audi and you’ll expect a certain level of tech. However, brand snobbery and perhaps because we’re buying a car that costs less, we sometimes don’t expect the latest gadgetry in … a Ford.
They probably won’t thank me for saying that, especially as they flew me to Aachen in Germany to see the tech for myself. Aachen is the home of their Ford Research and Advanced Engineering Centre. This is where the magic happens, where the next few years of tech is being invented and tested. After arriving in Dusseldorf we started our trip and into Aachen itself. Despite the darkness and rain that met our arrival in December, the city of Aachen was festooned in Christmas lights and a Christmas market when we arrived. Although I was fully aware that I’d just stepped off a plane, the presence of a Christmas market made me feel almost at home in a way – it’s something we’re all used to in cities across the UK now.
I’ll confess, initially my eyes did glaze over by some of the topics on the itinerary. Pim van der Jagt, who heads up the R&D here in Aachen, was all set to tell us about real driving emissions, lightweight materials, renewables and paint coating technology. Yes, all of this is going to be a great improvement for future owners, but – as a writer – I like to find something that is both interesting and innovative.
Ford Remote Parking
I’ll fast-forward you to day two in Germany. Suffice to say, the free wine and endless food had given me a slightly unclear view of the world, and I was grateful for the coffee on site. Component testing didn’t register in my rather foggy brain, but when I saw a car slowly rolling back out of a parking space I nearly dived for cover.
However, it turns out that someone hadn’t left the handbrake off. This was a new and really cool bit of car technology which really caught my imagination.
Parking. It’s annoying. Let’s face it, most spaces aren’t big enough and a lot of the older multi-storey car-parks were designed by drunken architects in the 1960’s for tiny vehicles that were made in factories near Birmingham. A classic Mini would probably fit into one of the inner-city multi-storey car-parks easily, but most modern vehicles quickly end up with dents or squashed drivers trying to slide out of a door. Just last week I went to a car-park in Birmingham city centre with three spaces in-between those concrete pillars, but you can really only fit two cars between them now. If you do find a space, you’ll park in quite a spacious slot only to find, on your return, that some turnip has dumped his Range Rover right next to you at some crazy angle.
This, as you’ll see in my video shortly, isn’t a car with a broken hand-brake. No, this is Ford remote parking. Hit a button on your key fob and the car reverses out of the space. You then hop in and drive away.
There is, of course, a lot more to this. As you’ll see from the video, the car is clever enough not to reverse over anyone and you can slot it into a space too. If you think about it, with vehicles increasing in size by up to 25% during the last 40 years, people are already doing something like this, but in a manual way. Get to a parking spot and, if you think ahead, it’s probably best to get your family out of the car before you get into a space.
With this solution in place you can all get out, and it might finally mean that you can actually use your garage at home for putting a car in!
This “Remote Park Assist” system is an enhanced version of the “Active Park Assist” which is available already. It uses a “Fully Assisted Parking Aid” technology which can fully control the gear selection, steering and forward / reverse motion. It’s effectively giving you a huge radio-controlled car, but on your key fob instead of a controller.
Watch the video below. The key fob starts the car and the diesel motor springs into life. You have to press the button continuously on the fob and the second you let go it’ll come to a halt. The steering is done all by the car using sensors. All the time the car is checking for free space whilst coming out of the space or going into it.
About 2 minutes in you’ll notice our host actually walking behind the car whilst holding down the “reverse” command. The sensors spot that there’s an obstacle and the car immediately hits the brakes. There are six ultra-sonic sensors at the front and six at the rear. These are the same that are used for the other park-assist functions and these will detect the free space and any obstacles so it doesn’t bump into anything. Very clever stuff.
The remote key fob itself is still undergoing testing and final redesigns. It’s still in the concept stage and may end up being a combination of your existing key and your phone. There could indeed be an app for driving your car. Everything has to be finalised as the whole solution has to be really secure and reliable. There’s also a lot of regulations that need to adhered to, for example in America there’s a requirement for someone to press the brake pedal to shift into drive on the automatic transmission – this is something that can’t be done if you’re standing outside with your magic key fob.
Currently, on this particular model, Ford are using ultrasonic sensors, however Ford are also working on radar sensors. Radar sensors are something we here at Coolsmartphone are familiar with thanks to innovations in smartphone technology from Elliptic, and in a car it’ll mean that the vehicle can “see” a whole lot more – not just a limited view behind and in front. This is how the “Traffic Jam Assist” works, and we’re set to look at this next.
Traffic Jam Assist
This helps you when you’re on the move by (according to our Ford rep) “de-stressing the driver”. It builds on existing technology and “improves traffic flow”, plus it could actually prevent an accident. Ford don’t take all the control away from the driver here, but instead use “semi-autonomous technology” to relieve the boredom and frustration that can be caused when you’re crawling through traffic. The system helps with steering, braking and acceleration – plus it’ll monitor cars and lane markings via camera and radar to keep you in your lane and away from the car in front. Ford tell me that drivers here in Europe sit in traffic or crawl along bumper-to-bumper for an average of 30 hours every year.
The technology is available for vehicles with PowerShift automatic transmission and centres the car in the lane, keeping pace with the car in front. All you need to do is push a button when you get stuck in a a traffic jam. The Traffic Jam Assist system will then kick in, spotting the position of the car or truck in front via the grille-mounted radar I mentioned previously. It then uses a front-facing camera which is mounted just behind the windscreen to spot the lane markings. You can take over at any time if you use the steering wheel, pedals or an indicator.
Sounds a bit dangerous? Well, don’t worry – the car is going to monitor you too. You’ll still be required to interact with the steering wheel and, if the system detects that you’re not bothering to do anything, it’ll sound an alarm and show visual warnings. These will be more pronounced depending on the speed, so basically – don’t think you can tune out totally. It’s clever, and it’ll help with those dull “stop, go, stop, go” situations, but you’ll still need to play your part. This is a system that has been created by combining two bits of Ford tech – “Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go” and “Lane Centering Aid”.
Blind Spot Detection System
Back to parking though, and we also got to see a “Blind Spot Detection” system which will help those who are trying to reverse out of a space. This is always a tad tricky, especially if there’s crossing vehicles behind you. Say that you’re reversing off your driveway or backing out of a supermarket parking space – there’s always the risk of a car crossing behind you that you simply can’t see due to obstacles such as walls, cars etc. Here we got into a Focus where there’s no automatic driving systems, but there is – just like the Traffic Jam Assist – a set of radar sensors.
You will still need to look over your shoulder (sadly, something that a lot of drivers don’t do) when reversing, but a set of audible beeps will let you know when there’s a car approaching that will cross the back of your car. Here we see how it’ll help with a large van totally blocking our left-side. You’ll also notice, just after the beeps, that the car appears on our reversing camera.
We’ll be bringing you more details about the upcoming Ford technology in a few days, but we found the innovations and ideas to be really very interesting and, above all, genuinely beneficial for drivers. This isn’t just tech for the sake of it – these are gadgets and driving aids that will really help drivers in their daily lives.