Ford Advances Connected Cars by Using Space Robot Communications

Ford Motor Co. and St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University in Russia have been working together to enhance vehicle communication technology in hopes of taking connected cars to a  whole new level.

The interesting part here is the fact that they’ve used telematics technology, which is commonly deployed in advancing space robot communications, to develop a highly reliable data communications system for connected cars.

What was the purpose?

The main goal of the three-year project and collaboration was to develop a more resilient communications platform for connecting drivers and favor providers with services and information in the cloud.

Thus, the car manufacturers set out to address two important problems connected cars face:

  • Maintaining a strong communication between cars and the cloud in big cities where wireless networks are commonly overloaded.
  • Keeping reliable communications in rural or isolated areas where wireless networks are often nonexistent.

“The challenge of creating a robust wireless communications network is shared between the space and automotive industries,” said Oleg Gusikhin, technical leader of advanced connected services for Ford Research & Advanced Engineering.

He also added that “These first results are very promising in terms of offering more reliable communications technology for the future of connected vehicles.”

Building the prototype

Data was collected from moving vehicles over cellular channels, Wi-Fi and via other vehicles. It’s important to note that there is a wide variety of capabilities for a connection to the cloud.

The team came up with an intelligent connectivity manager that uses certain algorithms and special software to single out the connection option which is best suited to transfer data to the cloud. What this means is that each car was able to assess the quality of the communication channels available and to share data.

Researchers created a small-scale connectivity coverage map showing features of the landscape, merging data on the location of fixed and mobile wireless access points, the quality of service of the available communication channels and, last but not least, traffic conditions.

Then it was time for a trial.

The trial

The scenario was very appropriate, as the goal was to see how the technology will play out in condition where critical information would need to be shared between cars.

The test simulated a road emergency in a poor connectivity area: A car entering a tunnel encounters black ice and needs to notify the cars that were behind it about the hazard as soon as possible. Wi-Fi is not an option and there is no cellular signal in the tunnel. However, another car exiting the tunnel in the opposite direction has a both a vehicle-to-vehicle and a cellular connection.

In this case, the intelligent connectivity manager of the first car selected the second car’s vehicle-to-vehicle channel to send a warning message via the Ford cloud to the drivers about the hazardous conditions ahead.

In a scenario where there were no cars, the connectivity manager would have postponed sending the warning message until a cellular network became available (when the first car left the tunnel).

Now that you’ve got some of the most important facts, I think it’s important to talk about the impact this kind of technology could have in the near future.

What does this mean for connected cars?

The prototype technology could turn out to be a great asset when it comes to improving connected cars, in terms of functionality, safety and adaptability. And that’s just to name a few.

This type of technology could be successfully used to develop smart city applications, assuming more vehicles will be using such a system, of course. If that will ever be the case, any moving or parked car with a steady network connection could provide the means for other devices within its range to access the information services that are needed.

Referring to the solutions his team helped develop, St Petersburg State head of telematics, Vladimir Zaborovksy, said: “They open broad prospects for application – both in transportation logistics and in space”.

I’m curious to know your take on Ford’s intention to develop car communications systems. Also, do you think this is the type of technology manufacturers should look into in order to advance the connected cars of the future?

Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.

Philipp Kandal