Future Ford vehicles could be equipped with technology that lets drivers know if a pedestrian is dangerously close – even if they can’t be seen.
Ford claims the development is based around Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals that have become ubiquitous in modern tech thanks to low power draw and range. In this case, Ford is developing a mobile app that will broadcast a pedestrian or cyclist’s location and relay it back to Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC, the company’s onboard operating system.
What’s less clear is how much data Ford’s smartphone app would require, and what it would do with said data. Beyond that, there’s the matter of BLE accuracy, which isn’t great at longer distances, according to a 2019 paper from the Institute of Physics (IOP).
In the paper, researchers found that various BLE beacon positioning systems displayed similar test results, with average location accuracies falling to within 0.79 meters and 2.28 meters. At 10 meters, location accuracy gets as bad as only locating the BLE beacon to within 7.81 meters – that’s not a lot of stoppng distance.
Per UK insurance company RAC, a vehicle traveling 20 MPH requires 14 meters of braking distance, which means Ford’s plan to rely on BLE for locating unnoticed pedestrians might not be the best technological choice.
Ford says that SYNC-enabled vehicles are already equipped with the hardware needed to introduce the technology, so upgrades won’t be necessary. Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s executive director for Research and Advanced Engineering, said that the new BLE technology will work in tandem with Ford’s existing Co-Pilot360 driver assist technology, which detects pedestrians, cyclists and other hazards and can brake the vehicle if necessary.
“We are now exploring ways to expand vehicle sensing capability, for areas drivers cannot see, to help people drive even more confidently on roads increasingly shared by others using their two feet or two wheels.”
Ford has a number of partners on the project, including The Ohio State University and T-Mobile, the latter of which is working with Ford to build a 5G-based system that functions similarly to the BLE hidden pedestrian alert system.
In addition to helping protect pedestrians on busy roadways, Ford says the technology could be expanded to include detecting road construction zones and workers, as well as in other safety applications where unseen people or small vehicles could pose a threat.
But what about the scenery?
For those thinking less about pedestrian safety and more about the sanctity of an unspoiled view when cruising in a self-driving car, Toyota has filed a Black Mirror-esque patent for technology that does the exact opposite of Ford’s.
In a somewhat bizarre 2019 filing recently singled out on Twitter by patent lawyer Jeff Steck, Toyota claimed it was developing the concept in order to “improv[e] the comfort of a driver during self-driving.”
Toyota’s concept is for “masking image” technology that can detect potential hazards and, “in a case in which the driver is not observing the situation,” will hide threats that the car’s self-driving computer needs to know about, but which the driver doesn’t, “allowing the driver to recognize circumstances other than potential hazards. Namely, the driver is able to observe the scenery.”
As this is a patent filing, there’s no way to know if Toyota’s concept is any more than that. Ford, on the other hand, will be demonstrating both the BLE and 5G versions of its new tech at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s World Congress meeting in Los Angeles this week. ®