We have just returned from a three day trip to Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. There we learned about Ford’s design, simplification, safety, urbanization, and eco-psychology projects. All that, and we got to drive some really cool cars, too.
The trip opened up with a private event at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, where we got to hear from the Bill Ford, great grandson of Henry Ford. Bill Ford talked about everything from sustainability to mobility, emphasizing his great grandad’s vision of “opening the highways to all mankind”. Mr. Ford gave us a pretty good overview of everything we’d learn over the course of our trip, including “democratization of technology”, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and building clean and recyclable cars (currently 85% recyclable). He also spoke of the hardships he had to deal with over the past 10 years in reviving and redefining Ford for a greener, and more sustainable, future.
Moving on, we learned about mobility, urbanization, and safety trends. Did you know Ford will be offering a feature that nudges you if you start to veer off your lane? It’s called a lane departure warning and uses a forward looking camera that continuously monitors the road. It will actually even help the driver steer the car back on course. These cars are getting smart! Ford also integrates, or will be integrating, other safety technology such as driver alert, MyKey, blind spot information system, cross traffic alert, and park assist. MyKey is an interesting feature that allows parents to limit speed an audio controls to encourage teenagers to drive safely and with better fuel efficiency.
To deal with urbanization and mobility, Ford continued to speak of “vehicle-to-vehicle” communication systems that will make the road safer to everyone. They’re toying with in-car technology to communicate with other cars on the road, eventually leading to a “single connected transportation network”. To deal especially with urbanization, Zipcar and Ford have invested in each other to offer an easier, and more eco-friendly, solution to urban driving.
Natural speech has been an ongoing trend (i.e. Siri), so Ford is capitalizing and teamed with Nuance to provide natural speech recognition on the Ford Sync platform. Another big improvement coming to Ford Sync is AppLink, a platform agnostic solution to syncing your car with various apps like Pandora.
We got a glimpse at a future technology, which has capabilities that are almost scary. Ford is testing technology that can determine “driver wellness”. It uses a front-facing camera, steering wheel sensors, and a smart seat-belt that can detect breathing patterns and heart rate. Using this data, Ford can actually speculate for as to whether or not you’re fit to drive.
Christian Siriano, of Project Runway, was part of the design panel that schooled us in the “age of accessible design”. Once the panelist were done talking about Ryan Gosling, they got to the main point, that product design must resonate with individuals. It’s not enough to match a product’s design in functionality, but it must also be done so on an emotional level.
In the design center, we got to see how designers, engineers, and testers get to go hands-on with future vehicles in a virtual reality simulation. We also learned how important it is to get the sound of the engine just right for a consumer. They use a virtual vehicle sound simulator to hear how a vehicle would sound under various conditions, and with different engine components. Lastly, in the design lab, we got to see how engineers construct a life-size clay model of future cars. Slowly but surely that clay gets sculpted and scraped until it’s perfect.
Sustainability isn’t just a consumer trend, but it’s a way of life; we’re making our own future. Ford is playing a big role in contributing towards a greener future. They touched on a variety of innovations including making their vehicles lighter (reduces fuel efficiency), teaching users to drive greener (with SmartGuage), and using as many recyclable and sustainable materials as possible. Soybeans, denim, wheat straw, tires, water bottles, coconuts, and even shredded currency are among the many natural and recycled products that go into producing a Ford vehicle. Adrian Grenier, AKA Vince from Entourage, was on a panel with business partner Peter Glatzer talking about their company SHFT, which also promotes a more sustainable future.
Lastly, what would a trip to Ford be without a day on the track!? We drove the 2012 Focus Electric, 2013 Escape, 2013 Mustang, and even the 2013 Police Interceptor. The Focus Electric was surprisingly peppy, as it was surprisingly silent. In a relay race (which we won with the help of our Gear Diary friends), we sat in the drivers seat of the Ford Escape while it determined if there was enough room to park, and then parallel parked itself! The 2013 Mustang is all muscle, needless to say. The Police Interceptor was pretty bare-bone on the inside, but oh boy can it drive. With the assistance of a driver, we also got to take out the most powerful half-ton pickup truck on the market, the F-150 SVT Raptor.
All-in-all, we appreciate Ford’s commitment to opening up their HQ to share their newest in-house technology and innovations, and we hope that the company continues to make their projects so transparent.