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MWC: Ford in the van-guard of autonomous delivery

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Vans have been a key component in delivery for years now and drones are a relatively new phenomenon. However, in an effort to improve mobility in rural areas, Ford employees have come up with ideas to make the two work together.

For more than half a century, vans have played a key role in deliveries. Drones are a modern phenomenon. But the two could work hand in hand to improve mobility in urban areas in one example of Ford’s vision for the “City of Tomorrow”.

Self-driving vans could quickly and efficiently transport everything from groceries to urgently needed medical supplies on the ground, with drones potentially able to take to the air for the final leg of the journey to reach destinations inaccessible by car, such as high up in a tower block – or where parking would be difficult, impractical, or unsafe.

The innovative “Autolivery” concept, developed by a team of Ford employees for the company’s Last Mile Mobility Challenge, imagines electric self-driving vans used together with drones to pick up and drop off goods and packages in urban areas. The concept can be experienced through virtual reality headsets at Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry, in Barcelona, as part of Ford’s vision of the “City of Tomorrow”.

The experience showed dinner party preparations, with a missing ingredient quickly ordered and delivered in time to add to the recipe. As new data reveals that motorists in Europe’s cities spent up to 91 hours sitting in congested traffic during 2016, the “Autolivery” service illustrates how new technologies could improve the lives of consumers with smart connected homes, and help to pave the way to a more sustainable future. *

“Ford has at its heart a culture of disruption and innovation designed to come up with solutions that put people first, to save them time, money and aggravation, and also to make our cities easier to navigate and better to live in,” said Ken Washington, vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering, Ford Motor Company.

The Autolivery idea, one of many submitted by Ford employees to tackle the last mile challenge, paid particular attention to the challenge of the “last 15 metres” in goods delivery. Widely considered the most challenging part of the goods delivery process to automate, many companies are working on how to solve the complexity of delivering packages the last 15 metres, or from kerb to door. The pressure to solve this challenge is expected to increase globally in coming years with GDP growth and a rise in local deliveries due to online sales.

“While the scene shown today is not yet possible, ‘Autolivery’ suggests how our ongoing mobility research could enrich our lives in a more sustainable ‘City of Tomorrow’,” said Washington.

“The City of Tomorrow” envisages overcoming mobility challenges in urban environments, including gridlock and air pollution to help people move more easily today and in the future. Roads could be converted into green space and parks, allowing for higher quality of life and healthier communities. The company regularly invites employees, entrepreneurs and start‑ups to develop innovations through hackathons and challenges. “Autolivery” was developed by Shanghai-based Ford designers Euishik Bang, James Kuo and Chelsia Lau who responded to Ford’s Last Mile Mobility Challenge – to come up with mobility solutions for urban areas.

“It’s all about making life in the city easier. The possibility of harnessing autonomous and electric vehicle technology with drones to quickly and easily send and deliver parcels could help to make life better for everyone,” said Bang. Also developed for Last Mile Mobility Challenge, and shown at Mobile World Congress, were the electric rideable platform Carr‑E and the folding electric tricycle TriCiti.

Ford intends to have a fully autonomous, SAE level 4-capable vehicle for commercial application in mobility services such as ride sharing, ride hailing or package delivery fleets in 2021. It also expects continued growth in electrified vehicles offerings, to the point where they outnumber their petrol‑powered counterparts in the next 15 years. Shared modes of transportation will continue to gain popularity and connected communications between vehicles and infrastructure will grow.

“We are challenging ourselves to understand how people live, work and move in urban areas, to inform our research in mobility technologies and solutions,” Washington said.

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Why sports cars make us feel good

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Forget romance, fine dining or an epic boxset binge – new preliminary research reveals that driving a sports car on a daily basis is among the best ways to boost your sense of wellbeing and emotional fulfilment.

The study measured “buzz moments” – peak thrills that play a vital role in our overall wellness – as volunteers cheered on their favourite football team, watched a gripping Game of Thrones episode, enjoyed a passionate kiss with a loved one or took an intense salsa dancing class. Only the occasional highs of riding a roller coaster ranked higher than the daily buzz of a commute in a sports car.

Working with neuroscientists and designers, Ford brought the research to life with the unique Ford Performance Buzz Car: a customised Ford Focus RS incorporating wearable and artificial intelligence technology to animate the driver’s emotions in real time across the car’s exterior. 

Watch the video here https://youtu.be/AFpt6jziFsU

“A roller coaster may be good for a quick thrill, but it’s not great for getting you to work every day,” said Dr Harry Witchel, Discipline Leader in Physiology. “This study shows how driving a performance car does much more than get you from A to B – it could be a valuable part of your daily wellbeing routine.”

Study participants who sat behind the wheel of a Ford Focus RS, Focus ST or Mustang experienced an average of 2.1 high-intensity buzz moments during a typical commute; this compared with an average of 3 buzz moments while riding on a roller coaster, 1.7 while on a shopping trip, 1.5 each while watching a Game of Thrones episode or a football match, and none at all while salsa dancing, fine dining or sharing a passionate kiss. 

For the research, Ford took one Focus RS and worked with Designworks to create the Buzz Car:

From concept, design and installation to software development and programming, the Buzz Car took 1,400 man-hours to create. Each “buzz moment” experienced by the driver – analysed using a real-time “emotional AI” system developed by leading empathic technology firm Sensum – produces a dazzling animation across almost 200,000 LED lights integrated into the car. The Buzz Car also features:

  • High-performance Zotac VR GO gaming PC
  • 110 x 500-lumen daylight-bright light strips
  • 82 display panels with 188,416 individually addressable LEDs

Driver state research

Researchers at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany are already looking into how vehicles can better understand and respond to drivers’ emotions. As part of the EUfunded ADAS&ME project, Ford experts are investigating how in-car systems may one day be aware of our emotions – as well as levels of stress, distraction and fatigue – providing prompts and warnings, and could even take control of the car in emergency situations.

“We think driving should be an enjoyable, emotional experience,” said Dr Marcel Mathissen, research scientist at Ford of Europe. “The driver-state research Ford and its partners are undertaking is helping to lead us towards safer roads and – importantly – healthier driving.”

Activity Buzz Moments *
Roller Coaster 3
Driving 2.1
Shopping 1.7
Game of Thrones 1.5
Football Game 1.5
Kissing 0
Salsa Dancing 0
Dining 0

* Average number of high-intensity buzz moments per participant

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Car that sees round corners

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Jaguar Land Rover is leading a £4.7 million (approximately R79 million) project to develop self-driving cars that can ‘see’ at blind junctions and through obstacles.

Britain’s biggest carmaker is leading a project called AutopleX to combine connected, automated and live mapping tech so more information is provided earlier to the self-driving car. This enables automated cars to communicate with all road users and obstacles where there is no direct view, effectively helping them see, so they can safely merge lanes and negotiate complex roundabouts autonomously.

Chris Holmes, Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Research Manager at Jaguar Land Rover said: “This project is crucial in order to bring self-driving cars to our customers in the near future. Together with our AutopleX partners, we will merge our connected and autonomous research to empower our self-driving vehicles to operate safely in the most challenging, real-world traffic situations. This project will ensure we deliver the most sophisticated and capable automated driving technology.”

Jaguar Land Rover is developing fully- and semi-automated vehicle technologies, offering customers a choice of an engaged or automated drive, while maintaining an enjoyable and safe driving experience. The company’s vision is to make the self-driving car viable in the widest range of real-life, on- and off-road driving environments and weather.

AutopleX will develop the technology through simulation and public road testing both on motorways and in urban environments in the West Midlands. Highways England, INRIX, Ricardo, Siemens, Transport for West Midlands and WMG at the University of Warwick join the AutopleX consortium, which was announced as part of Innovate UK’s third round of Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Funding in March 2018.

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