Ford’s Safety Technology Tells a Sustainability Story

Vehicles of the future will announce their location and speed to eachother

Reporting from Dearborn, MI, I was pleasantly surprised by Ford’s “safety technology” demonstration – a ride in a kitted out Ford Explorer to demonstrate various ways new cars will avoid collisions.  After the demonstration, which turned out to be fascinating, it struck me that public safety is an obvious aspect of sustainability – not to mention common-sense business.  Keeping people safe matters.

Let’s start with the basics:

Ford has had something called “adaptive cruise control” for a couple years now (PDF here).  It’s a simple radar on the front of your car which determines whether a distant vehicle in front of you is travelling a slower rate of speed.  As you get close to it, your car automatically adjusts its cruise control to a slower rate to avoid a rear end collision.  It will automatically increase your speed if the other car moves out of the way or speeds up.

More exciting, however was a system called the “Blind Spot Information System” and a host of ways cars will “talk” to each other to communicate their positions and speed – avoiding more complex collisions hundreds of yards in advance.  Take a look at this:

Ouch.

Now imagine if there had been a way for either vehicle to sense the incoming collision course by knowing that another vehicle was approaching at an unstoppable speed? The technology Ford is testing would do that.

A loud beep and a red dashboard light warn of likely collisions

In our demonstration (fortunately driven by an experienced test driver), our vehicle sped toward a blind intersection where our view of perpendicular traffic was blocked by a large truck.  Another test driver sped toward the intersection from our right at a high rate of speed that would have guaranteed a crash if we hadn’t stopped.

Like clockwork a flashing red signal and a loud beeping warned our driver to slam on the brakes.  Collision avoided.

The same technology was demonstrated to sense vehicles in adjacent lanes, as well oncoming traffic on a two lane road – useful when passing a truck, for example.

In order for it to work, it requires other vehicles to have the same technology – something that’s still down the road, and something that would involve all car manufacturers, not just Ford.  A national standard is planned first, followed by some kind of international standard for cross border driving.  No word on whether your vintage Mustang can have the system yet.

In theory, such a system could even be connected to the brakes to force the driver to slow down.  Though, as WIRED ominously reported this month, there will inevitably be failures on any automated system. However, this is more of an argument against completely autonomous vehicles than it is a critique of helpful pieces of assistance  like the lange change warning or even automatically adjustable cruise control.

(full disclosure, the conference, including travel has been paid for by Ford)

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He was instrumental in the creation of TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years as well as an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.