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MWC: Ford unveils new car, new vision

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At this week’s Mobile World Congress, Ford unveiled the new Kuga SUV and also announced various new advancements towards its fully autonomous vehicle.

Ford CEO Mark Fields this week unveiled the new Kuga SUV at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and committed to tripling Ford’s engineering investment in semi-autonomous vehicle technologies as the company continues to expand its Ford Smart Mobility plan.

Fields’ keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona focused on Ford’s transition from an automotive company to an auto and a mobility company through Ford Smart Mobility – the company’s plan to be a leader in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience, and data and analytics.

Fields also confirmed FordPass, the company’s new customer experience platform, debuts this year in Europe. New partners for FordPass include BP and Mobile City, a leading mobile parking payment company. FordPass also will integrate Ford Carsharing, run with Germany’s Flinkster Carsharing.

“As we look to the future, it is clear we are on the cusp of a revolution in mobility – from car sharing to autonomous driving to the customer experience,” Fields said. “Technology and innovation provide us with the opportunity to address these trends and to make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves.”

Ford provided the following information:

The new Kuga

The sophisticated new Kuga will offer technologies and updates to make driving simpler, safer, more enjoyable and more affordable. These include Ford’s new SYNC 3 communications and entertainment system, innovative driver assistance technologies, an ergonomic and comfortable interior and a new 120 PS 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine.

The bold and sporty new Kuga that debuts at Mobile World Congress also will offer Ford’s Perpendicular Parking technology that helps drivers park hands-free in spaces alongside other cars; an enhanced version of the Active City Stop collision avoidance system; and Ford’s Adaptive Front Lighting System for optimised visibility in low light. Further sophisticated technologies include Hands-Free Liftgate and Ford Intelligent All Wheel Drive.

Ford is tripling its driver assist technology engineering investment to make it easier to drive in heavy traffic and park, while developing fully autonomous vehicles for the future. The significant increase in investment announced today will enable Ford to research and develop driver assist technology that transfer more driving tasks to the vehicle and provide more comfort and safety to the driver.

These will include Traffic Jam Assist and Fully Active Park Assist that Fields announced Ford will roll out in the next three years.

Autonomous vehicles

Ford is taking two distinct pathways toward vehicle automation. First, the company has a dedicated team developing driver assist technology that is focused on delivering increasing levels of automation.

Traffic Jam Assist helps the driver with steering, braking and acceleration in heavily congested traffic situations on motorways. Easily activated by pushing a button, the system helps keep the vehicle centred in the lane and brakes and accelerates to keep pace with the vehicle in front.

Fully Active Park Assist will help drivers by steering and controlling the transmission, throttle and brake to seamlessly pull into a parking spot at the touch of a button.

Further semi-autonomous technologies already introduced by Ford include  Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, a camera- and radar-based system that detects vehicles and people in the road ahead; and Intelligent Speed Limiter, which could help prevent drivers from exceeding speed limits, and potentially from incurring costly speeding penalties.

“The use of semi-autonomous functions such as Traffic Jam Assist and Fully Active Park Assist make driving easier and more enjoyable for our customers,” said Ken Washington, vice president, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.

As for the future, Ford also has a dedicated fully autonomous vehicle programme in Aachen, Germany, and in Palo Alto, California, and Dearborn, Michigan, in the U.S., with more than a decade of experience.

Ford is seeking to deliver autonomous capability that does not require driver input described by the SAE International as Level 4 of automation. At this level of capability, autonomous vehicles will likely be offered first in climates that support optimal sensor performance and in areas that have been mapped in high resolution 3D.

Already, Ford is the first automaker to test fully autonomous vehicles in winter weather, including snow, and recently announced plans to triple the company’s autonomous vehicle development fleet making it the largest of all automakers.

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“We are committed to making autonomous vehicles available for millions of people,” Washington said. “Within well-defined areas and with favourable environmental conditions, we predict that fully autonomous driving will be possible within four years, and that autonomous vehicles will play a significant role in making travel safer, more enjoyable, and more accessible.”

A new customer experience

FordPass features four elements. A Marketplace offering access to mobility services and partners; trusted and knowledgeable FordGuides who are always there to help members to resolve mobility challenges; Appreciation, where members are recognised for their loyalty; and FordHubs, where consumers can experience new innovations.*

Through FordPass owners will be able to manage their vehicle, including scheduling maintenance services. The partnerships announced today will bring significant benefits to FordPass members as follows:

  • The partnership with BP will reward members with exclusive offers and geolocation services, adding to loyalty partners including McDonalds and 7-Eleven. In the future, FordPass may enable members to search for nearby BP locations based on facilities available. Ford and BP can envision helping members to fill up at the right time and in the right place. This might for example include members remaining comfortable inside a vehicle and not stand outside in the cold or the heat, while a robot does the refuelling
  • Through its existing partnership with Flinkster, one of the biggest car sharing companies in Germany incorporating dealerships, FordPass will offer 24-hour access to more than 4,000 cars country-wide. This includes Ford Carsharing’s fleet of 190 vehicles, from Transit to Fiesta, and Flinkster’s own fleet of cars, most of which are Ford vehicles
  • Parkopedia, the global database for parking spaces, allows all FordPass members to search for parking, based on location, cost, availability and user ratings. In addition, as an on-street parking payment provider, Mobile City will help to provide a more seamless parking experience by enabling drivers to pay fees through FordPass . That could mean no need to keep coins, or for the right change, and beyond that – supporting a future that could see members’ cars park themselves in off-street facilities

“This all-new platform that we are launching in Europe later this year is really about listening to people’s needs and developing ways to help them move better. It’s also about convenience, connecting consumers with the world and making it all incredibly easy,” Fields said.

Mobility – new ways of getting about

As part of Ford Smart Mobility, the company is working to expand the range of car-sharing and parking services offered in European cities and towns.

In London, with its new GoPark pilot, Ford is building a predictive parking system – capable of directing drivers to streets where they’re most likely to find a space. A group of residents from the borough of Islington have volunteered to take part – with their cars being equipped with plug-in devices to give live data for traffic and parking conditions. The pilot includes both Ford and non-Ford vehicles.

Also in London, Ford’s on-demand GoDrive car-sharing pilot is now trialling on-street parking on certain streets. Since launching last year, the service has expanded to 25 hubs across the city, each with guaranteed parking, at locations that include London Waterloo railway station and London City Airport.

In Germany, bookings for Ford Carsharing, designed to serve small and medium sized cities, as well as large towns, were up by 76 per cent in 2015, with customers already driving more than 1 million kilometres in total during the year. The service is offered by Ford Germany and their dealers with 170 Ford Carsharing stations all over Germany.

Connectivity, data and analytics

Ford also at Mobile World Congress demonstrated on the new Kuga, for the first time in Europe, its new SYNC 3 communications and entertainment system. SYNC 3 allows drivers to control audio, navigation, and climate functions plus connected smartphones using simple, conversational voice commands.

The company announced new apps for the system that can be voice-activated using SYNC AppLink, and include enabling drivers to earn money by transporting packages. The MyBoxMan app enables drivers delivering a package for others to earn around ?5-8 for a typical five kilometre journey.**

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Body-tracking tech moves to assembly line

Technology typically used by the world’s top sport stars to raise their game, or ensure their signature skills are accurately replicated in leading video games, is now being used on an auto assembly line.

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Employees at Ford’s Valencia Engine Assembly Plant, in Spain, are using a special suit equipped with advanced body tracking technology. The pilot system, created by Ford and the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia, has involved 70 employees in 21 work areas. 

Player motion technology usually records how athletes sprint or turn, enabling sport coaches or game developers to unlock the potential of sport stars in the real world or on screen. Ford is using it to design less physically stressful workstations for enhanced manufacturing quality.

“It’s been proven on the sports field that with motion tracking technology, tiny adjustments to the way you move can have a huge benefit,” said Javier Gisbert, production area manager, Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant. “For our employees, changes made to work areas using similar technology can ultimately ensure that, even on a long day, they are able to work comfortably.”

Engineers took inspiration from a suit they saw at a trade fair that demonstrated how robots could replicate human movement and then applied it to their workplace, where production of the  new Ford Transit Connect and 2.0-litre EcoBoost Duratec engines began this month.

The skin-tight suit consists of 15 tiny movement tracking light sensors connected to a wireless detection unit. The system tracks how the person moves at work, highlighting head, neck, shoulder and limb movements. Movement is recorded by four specialised motion-tracking cameras – similar to those usually paired with computer game consoles – placed near the worker and captured as a 3D skeletal character animation of the user.

Specially trained ergonomists then use the data to help employees align their posture correctly. Measurements captured by the system, such as an employee’s height or arm length, are used to design workstations, so they better fit employees. 

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Electric cars begin to bridge the luxury gap

A new era has dawned as electric mobility bridges the gap between luxury and necessity, writes TREVOR HILL – head of Audi South Africa.

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Mobility is essential to today’s world. We travel to get to work, to go shopping, and to meet friends and family – in short, effective transport impacts on all aspects of our modern lives. Access to mobility is critical to economic growth and progress, bringing more opportunities and better productivity. At the same time however, growing environmental concerns and a looming shortage of fossil fuels have created tension between our ever-growing demand for mobility and the health of our planet.

Growing populations, increasing urbanization and economic and social development mean that there are more cars on our roads each day. The knock-on effects of this are greater levels of congestion and longer times spent commuting, which means more stress and higher levels of aggression on the road. Skyrocketing levels of air pollution – to which transportation is one of the leading contributors – has negative effects on both health and climate change, both of which are key issues in global policy agendas.

So, the writing has been on the wall for some time. The gold standard in automotive technological progress has thus been to achieve a radical reduction of engine emissions and the development of electric cars has been at the forefront of this charge. We have now entered the beginning of a new era, as more and more of these vehicles take to the roads. Electric cars are now at the cusp of the mass market, with a steady stream of new models set to reach the consumer in future. Last week, we launched the Audi e-tron, our first all-electric-drive SUV, at a world premiere in San Francisco – one huge leap forward in pursuit of our goal. Audi will also bring more than 20 electrified models to the market by 2025, from the compact class to the full-size category. Around a dozen models will be all-electric, while the remainder will be plug-in hybrids for emission-free driving on shorter journeys.

Powering this development is ongoing improvement in battery technology, with increasing energy density and lengthened driving ranges possible between charges. Consumers have noted that they feel confident using electric cars for day-to-day use once battery technology can sustain a driving range of 300 or more kilometres, which is now possible. The Audi e-tron has a range of 400 kilometers, making it ideal for long distance driving. Drivers who charge the e-tron overnight can set off in the morning in full confidence that they won’t need to stop at a charging station as they go about their day.

What this technological progress also means however, is that the levels of power and performance achieved by an electric car draw ever closer to those of traditional engines. For anyone who loves high strung, powerful engines and the rush of adrenaline that comes from flooring the throttle on an empty stretch of road, this is no small thing.  At Audi, we are lucky to be surrounded by some of the most exceptional engines ever produced, so few people understand the thrill of an extraordinary driving experience better than we do. So, the holy grail is to achieve this same performance with vastly improved economy.

The Audi e-tron’s electric drive has two asynchronous motors, one at the front, one at the rear, with a total output of 300 kW of power. This allows the Audi e-tron to accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in just 5.7 seconds.

The next step will be the development of electric cars suitable for those who regularly drive long distances, entailing further advances in battery technology, and the development of a network of charging stations across the country. The battery for the Audi e-tron is designed to last the entire life cycle of the vehicle. When charged at a high-power charging station at up to 150 kW, the Audi e-tron can be restored to 80% in less than half an hour. At 22 kW, the Audi e-tron can charge its battery to 100% in around four and a half hours.

For city dwellers, however, the age of electric mobility has well and truly arrived. Rapid advances in technology continue to drive progress; the rise of electric cars is only one of many developments set to transform transportation as we know it, heralding a cleaner, more efficient future.

 

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