I seem to be doing a lot with Ford Motor Company recently. First it was the terrific 2016 Platinum Adventure Tour through Yellowstone National Park, and yesterday it was a tech demo for the Front Range Bloggers group on Facebook that I run. The demonstration was part of Ford’s Smart Mobility Tour where the company highlights some of its amazing smart assist tech that’s making cars smarter and safer (even as we drivers are getting dumber, more distracted and more dangerous).
The event was held in the visitor’s locker room at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, which was cool by itself, and we got to experience the assistive technology in a closed area of the parking lot: the Ford team had brought about a dozen different vehicles for the demos. I’ll share a few pics from the locker room that I found interesting, but first, let’s talk Ford.
The key technologies that the company was showing off are assistive parking, trailer backup assist and the just-released SYNC 3 media interface operating system. I’ve started to toy with replacing my 2008 Toyota Highlander, so one thing I really appreciated was the chance to get behind the wheel of a sparkling new Ford Edge, as pictured:
Nice looking car, eh? It was also the vehicle they used to demonstrate perpendicular parking assist, which is both cool and somewhat alarming, at least the first time you try it. First, an explanation:
Got it? You enable it with a double-push of a button on the central control unit, then drive at a regular speed along a lane in a parking lot. The radar system in your car scans on the side you’ve indicated (with your turn indicator, naturally):
When you pass an open space that’s of sufficient width for your vehicle, the console display tells you to stop, take your hands off the wheel, and slowly reverse. As you reverse, it turns tight into the spot with audio feedback beeping at an increasing rate until it says STOP on the console. You’re pretty darn close to the other vehicles at this point, but your job is to darn well stop immediately, then shift into drive.
The wheel zips around of its own volition and you’re prompted to pull forward. Once you’re as far forward as you can go and/or far enough forward that you’re now perfectly perpendicular to the spot, the system again says stop and prompts you to go back into reverse. A gentle tap or two on the gas — with your hands still off the steering wheel — and you’re backed into the spot, perfectly centered between the vehicles on either side of you.
I’ve tried the parallel parking feature on vehicles before — including this short video I produced a while back — and that takes some trust to have the car steer itself, but perpendicular is trickier and so it took yet another leap of faith. And it worked great the few times I watched it or tried it myself. Nice.
Pro Trailer Backup Assist
The next tech I wanted to try was the Trailer Backup Assist. if you’ve ever tried backing up with a trailer hitched up, you know just how tricky it can be, where you have to counter-steer. Ford took a close look at the physics and with the help of both a back-up camera and a coded sticker you place on the shaft of the trailer, have a system that can help you back up perfectly straight or into a spot on the left or right side (like a boat ramp) with the flip of a dial on the console:
It’s quite an interesting experience, and, again it’s the display on the main console of, in this case, the F-150 truck, that makes it possible:
Look closely and you can see the black and white checkerboard sticker on the shaft of the jetski trailer that the system uses to key into what’s going on as the vehicle moves backwards. I haven’t driven a trailer for years, but I do remember just how tricky reversing was, so I expect this’ll be a popular feature with truckers. (Note: Ford says it’s only going to be available on the F-150 truck, in case you’re thinking it’d be a nice add-on to your Escape or Fusion)
Ford Electric Bicycles
The third interesting tech were electric bicycles. Yes, you read that correctly. Ford sees the writing on the wall with so many urban areas closing off sections to cars (including Paris, for example). How to easily get around then? An electric bike that’s designed to store and charge while in the trunk of your car, of course. It’s all in prototype form but they have three major bike designs that they’re experimenting with:
Quite slick, actually, though we didn’t have a chance to actually ride one of the bikes. Then again, I might get kicked out of Boulder for having a non-human-powered bicycle on the road!
I’ve also used SYNC 2 quite a bit, and it’s a very nice interface to all the smarts of a modern vehicle, including seat controls, temp control, navigation and audio, but they were also showing off SYNC 3 and it’s a much needed and very elegant redesign of the system, as you can see here:
It’s light years beyond what I have with my old clunky Toyota console system, for sure, but then again, that’s almost a decade old at this point. If you’re looking at a Ford, you’re going to really like SYNC 3, available on a few choice cars for 2016 (including the Ford Escape) and then across the line in 2017.
I enjoyed the chance to play with some of the new assistive technologies that Ford demonstrated and am increasingly intrigued by the evolution of cars and the driving experience. You can catch other people’s impressions by looking on Twitter for #FordSmartMobility
The Sports Authority Field at Mile High Visitor Locker Room
Oh, yeah, and a few peeks at the fairly tame visitor locker room at Sports Authority Field, starting with the changing space itself:
My conclusion: The Denver Broncos do not want visitors to make themselves at home, or even be particularly comfortable, while visiting the Mile High City. 🙂
There were also some eye-catching signs, I present with no additional commentary:
All in all, a very interesting evening, both from the perspective of someone who’s not a particularly avid fan of NFL football, and as a car aficionado who is growing to really appreciate Ford Motor Company, with its lineup of vehicles and smart vehicle tech.