Ford: Connected Cars Can Save Us From Gridlock

The number of vehicles in the world is climbing at an ever-accelerating rate, leading the scion of an automotive dynasty to warn of crippling gridlock that can be averted only with cars that talk to each other and to the road.

Bill Ford Jr., the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company and great grandson of Henry Ford, cautioned against the threat of increased car ownership without a corresponding increase in automotive connectivity. Ford made his comments today during his keynote at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, reflecting a growing viewpoint among many auto executives and urbanists.

“If we do nothing, we face the prospect of ‘global gridlock,’ a never-ending traffic jam that wastes time, energy and resources and even compromises the flow of commerce and healthcare,” Ford said in a statement before the address. “The cooperation needed between the automotive and telecommunications industries will be greater than ever as we prepare for and manage the future. We will need to develop new technologies, as well as new ways of looking at the world.”

Ford is not being an alarmist. Sixty percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030, and there will be as many as 2 billion cars on the road. Much of that growth is expected to come in China, the world’s largest automotive market.

To that end, most major automakers are pursuing connected vehicle technology, which would use GPS, wireless and radar technology to ease congestion, increase safety and save time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says connecting our cars could address as many as 4.3 million crashes, or about 80 percent of accidents that don’t involve intoxicated drivers.

Beyond that, there is push within the auto industry to develop intelligent vehicles and semi- or even fully autonomous vehicles as a tool against congestion.

Ford being, well, Ford, he of course cited his company’s “Blueprint for Mobility” as an example of this kind of thinking. The blueprint highlights the need for smarter transportation infrastructure including “intelligent” cars that communicate with each other and with the road via wireless networks. Such advancements will require cooperation between the automotive and communications industries, which is why Ford took his message to the world’s largest mobile communications conference.

It’s clear our roads are close to their saturation point, and research is showing the only way to ease congestion is with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. For instance, a German study found that just five cars per thousand that communicate with one another could significantly reduce gridlock.

In an interview with London’s Financial Times, Ford said vehicles should be seen “as pieces of a much bigger, richer network.” Specifically, cars of the future could rely on 802.11p WLAN, which is reserved for V2V. In the near future, connected cars would communicate with one another and with central traffic-monitoring stations that could send warnings about congestion, construction and accidents to in-car navigation systems.

Further out, semi- or fully autonomous vehicles will allow for smoother traffic flow and fewer accidents. Already, projects such as Europe’s SARTRE road train trials are proving that cars following closely at safe speeds can maximize highway capacity and reduce congestion. And MIT researchers developed a mathematical model that can predict which cars will run red lights, which can be used to warn other V2V-connected cars.

Of course, none of these solutions will prevent congestion forever, nor will they be as efficient as well-run public transit systems when it comes to moving large numbers of people efficiently. And doubters argue implementing the technology to create networked vehicles will require an almost unattainable level of global standardization and cooperation. But there are some efforts underway. Volvo has successfully tested semi-autonomous “road trains,” and next year Germany will launch real-world tests of connected car technology using vehicles from three automakers.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar