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Ford explores smartphone-based tech that could help alert drivers of hard-to-see pedestrians, bicyclists and more

Ford is researching with Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile and Tome Software an affordable and scalable smartphone-based communication technology that one day could potentially help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists and more – even those hidden from direct view

Ford Motor Company is researching a new smartphone-based communications technology that could potentially help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists and more – even those approaching a vehicle’s path but blocked from a driver’s view.

The concept smartphone app running on a pedestrian’s phone uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) messaging to communicate their location to a connected Ford vehicle. If the vehicle calculates a potential crash risk, Ford SYNC® can alert drivers by the in-vehicle screen showing graphics of pedestrians, bicyclists or more with audio alerts sounding. Ford, Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile and Tome Software are demonstrating the technology at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s World Congress in Los Angeles this week.

“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, 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.”

Ford is a founding member of the Vulnerable Road User Safety Consortium™ (VRUSC), a consortia program of SAE Industries Technology Consortia Programs (SAE ITC®), an affiliate of SAE Group. The VRUSC was formed by vehicle, bicycle, ridesharing and technology companies to find technological solutions to rising crashes with pedestrians, bicyclists and others. Tome Software founded the Bike-to-Vehicle Advisory Board that grew into the new consortium.

National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data estimates traffic fatalities increased 13 percent to 7,342 in 2021 versus the prior year, while bicyclist traffic fatalities increased 5 percent — to 1,000 — during the same window.

“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 technology that’s already become part of our everyday lives because it’s affordable and effective.”

BLE connectivity technology creates wireless personal area networks using radio waves in the 2.4-gigahertz band to communicate with other similarly equipped devices. It is already widely available in smartphones and is compatible with SYNC connected vehicle technology without any hardware changes to the vehicle.

BLE could complement other technologies by communicating with other similarly equipped devices with sufficient range for alerts with the potential of advancing safety through awareness of pedestrians, bicyclists and more. BLE 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. This is especially relevant to the stress of big-city driving on shared roads.

BLE is widely used technology in personal electronics devices, including smartphones, fitness monitoring devices, location-based services, entertainment and much more. It uses very low power with batteries as small as dimes to operate for a very long time. Consumer BLE applications commonly involve pairing two devices. But Ford’s concept uses BLE as a beacon capable of sensing multiple other similarly equipped devices in range without pairing.

The system interprets a person is using the device, differentiates pedestrians from bicyclists and others based on their traveling speed, and further evaluating risk by their direction. BLE devices rapidly change communications channels – called frequency hopping – in the 2.4 GHz radio band to minimize interference.

Ford, T-Mobile investigate cellular solution

Ford and T-Mobile also will demonstrate the Ford app replacing BLE communication with T-Mobile’s 5G Advanced Network Solution combined with hyperscale computing – which adds resources from across a distributed computing network as demand increases – to help create more reliable communications. T-Mobile’s 5G network helps minimize the round-trip data travel time, allowing detection alerts to quickly be delivered to the vehicle’s SYNC screen.

* Driver-assist features are supplemental and do not replace the driver’s attention, judgment and the need to control the vehicle. Pre-collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking detects pedestrians, but not in all conditions, and can help avoid or reduce a collision. It does not replace safe driving. See Owner’s Manual for details and limitations.


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