Ford’s big news at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year is its connected bicycle experiment.
Yes: A car company, building a pushbike.
It centres around two foldable bikes:
The MoDe:Me, built in partnership with manufacturer Dahon, which is designed for urban commuters to zip through city traffic.
The MoDe:Pro, designed in-house, and intended for commercial use by delivery drivers, electricians, and so on.
Both work with a prototype iPhone 6 app called the MoDe:Link, which enables the bike to offer functions such as: Vibrating navigation on the handlebars to let the rider know when to turn; “smart routing” which also builds in public transport information, weather, and charging station locations; a sensor that automatically fires up the electric pedal assistance when a rider’s heart rate reaches a certain level; and compatibility with Ford’s SYNC system when the e-bike is stowed in a car.
They’re neat products and you can immediately see how useful they would be for people who want to zip around the city in as little time as possible. But still, the question remained: Why Ford?
Ford’s vice president of research and advanced engineering Ken Washington told Business Insider it builds into the company’s wider “Smart Mobility Plan,” launched at CES last month, which has seen the company commit to launching 25 experiments this year in the areas of connectivity, mobility, the customer experience, autonomous vehicles, and big data. He added that Ford is “no longer counting” how many experiments it is running but instead wants to spark a culture of innovation and experimentation within the company.
It’s a bit like Google’s famous “moon shots” — not all of these will become consumer products — but the initiative offers the company the chance to think about the idea of mobility beyond its day-to-day car-related business challenges.
The bike experiment isn’t just a novelty prototype: It’s also a way to collect data in a way Ford hasn’t done before, gathering research about how bikes are used in urban areas through a sensor box on the frame. A Ford representative on its Mobile World Congress stand told Business Insider he did not know of any other company — bicycle manufacturers or automakers — that are conducting this kind of experiment right now.
Here’s the kind of data Ford receives when one of its smartbikes is out on the road (except this one was stationary at Ford’s MWC stand.)
And here’s what the MoDe:Me e-bike looks like in a real-life (albeit indoor) setting.
And this is the little box that collects all the data and serves the vibrating directions
The Ford driverless car
Elsewhere, Ford’s work to create a driverless vehicle is well underway. Washington said, given its work on semi-autonomous car features that are already available (such as pedestrian detection, its collision warning system, and Active City Stop), the company believes fully automated cars will be possible “in the next five years, given the right circumstances.” Those circumstances include getting the go-ahead from lawmakers and persuading insurers to underwrite drivers inside the vehicles.
Ford is so acutely focused on the idea of the driverless car that last week it appointed Randy Visintainer as its first director responsible solely for autonomous vehicle development. He was previously the company’s global director of product development quality and GPDS.
Just like the bike, the autonomous vehicle strategy spans Ford’s the entire mobility business strategy. Washington said the company is also exploring how autonomous vehicles could potentially be rolled out as taxi services, or whether they could be shared in a car pool between multiple people to bring the price point down. That means bringing together its credit organisation, its services teams, engineers, marketers, and so on.
Washington said: “We think about our company as a car and truck company, and a technology company, and a mobility company. To get that right we need to leverage all of our teams across the entire enterprise.”
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