Two weeks ago, I had the chance to experience the technologies Ford Motor Group is pioneering.
Northern Belgium is the setting of Ford’s Lommel Proving Ground, the site where Ford tries out its newest vehicles. Covering 322 hectares, and enveloped by lush woodlands to banish spy photographers, Lommel is not normally media accessible.
The facility is operational 24/7, and Ford engineers work in shifts, testing out prototype vehicles at top speeds over every type of road surface on the 17 multi-surface test tracks – some of which I got to try out – before the vehicles go into production. Annual testing mileage is 6,000,000km.
These engineers are highly experienced drivers, with many of them also competing in rallies at the highest level. One of them whizzed me around during some hot laps in a specially designed Ford Mondeo car. Breathtaking.
Ford cars of the future
Regarding green tech, Ford is really pushing hybrid and electric vehicles. I drove the new Ford Transit Connect Electric (now available to buy in Ireland), as well as the automaker’s first ever zero-emission passenger car – the Ford Focus Electric, which will be on Irish soil next year. By 2013, Ford is aiming to have five fully electrified passenger cars for sale here.
With smart tech, Ford has created the world’s first inflatable rear seat belt, which deploys in 40 milliseconds. Ford’s Dr Frank Heitplatz, supervisor, Vehicle Safety, Small Car Segment, showed us how the belt’s sensors can determine the severity of a crash and deploy in such a way so as to prevent neck/back strain. Very nifty.
I tried out the Park Assist function on the new Ford Focus, a useful technology for those like myself who find parallel parking a nightmare.
The semi-automatic parallel parking system uses ultrasonic sensors to identify suitable parking spaces, and then it actually steers the vehicle into them. You just use the pedals.
One of the most enchanting safety features of all, created by Ford, that parents of teens are sure to love, is the MyKey, which will reach Europe in 2012. Matt Niesluchowski, Analytical Attributes manager (Safety, NVH, Durability), Ford, gave us a demo of how the MyKey tech works, using a rather gorgeous-looking black and red new Ford Mustang.
Via the MyKey, parents can programme a set speed limit for their teen when they are driving the car, giving them a separate electronic key. Parents can also change the settings on the MyKey at any time. Other functions covered by the MyKey include setting a max volume for the car’s sound system so the young driver doesn’t get distracted by blaring music.
More captivating technologies Ford is infusing into its vehicles include the BLIS (Blind Spot Information System), a feature that helps detect vehicles in blind spots during normal driving (already on the new Focus and C-MAX). Active City Stop, which is already on the new Ford Focus, is impressive. The car features a windscreen-mounted light-detecting and ranging sensor that, in the event of a looming slow-speed collision, detects the car ahead, stopping your vehicle immediately.
Medical tech in Ford vehicles
In terms of medical tech, Ford has been collaborating with Germany’s RWTH Aachen University to develop the Ford heart-monitoring seat. Via cloud-connected tech, you can almost envision one day taking an ECG from your car seat and then sending it to your medical centre to get it assessed.
Finally, for music lovers, the SYNCH tech that will work with MyFordTouch-equipped vehicles is sure to appeal. It will deliver Wi-Fi capability.
We were shown in a new Ford C-MAX how a driver can plug his or her own USB broadband modem into the car’s Media Hub, so the vehicle becomes like a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot. It even has voice recognition, so you can say, "Play Stone Roses This is the One" and, hey presto … !