Ford Motor Company is researching a new smartphone-based communications technology that could potentially help warn drivers of vulnerable road users like pedestrians and bicyclists including those blocked from a driver’s view.
Partners in the research project of the scalable smartphone-based communication technology include Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile, and Tome Software.
Essentially, the technology is a concept smartphone app running on a pedestrian’s phone that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) messaging to communicate their location to a connected Ford vehicle. If the vehicle calculates a potential crash risk, Ford SYNC can alert drivers by the in-vehicle screen showing graphics of pedestrians, bicyclists, or more with audio alerts sounding.
The automaker is 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 on foot or on two wheels.
The time is ripe for this type of technology, as pedestrian fatalities continue to rise. In 2020, 6,519 pedestrians were killed and an estimated 55,000 were injured on the nation’s roadways, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Moreover, bicyclist traffic fatalities increased 5% — reaching 1,000 — in 2021 as compared to 2020.
Noteworthy, BLE does not rely on line-of-sight detection like cameras or radar, which means pedestrians and others can be detected while hidden behind obstructions such as buildings. This is especially relevant to big-city driving on shared roads. What’s more, the automaker envisions other possible applications for the BLE technology such as detecting road construction zones and construction workers.
Ford’s concept uses BLE as a beacon capable of sensing multiple other similarly equipped devices in range without pairing two devices. The system interprets a person is using the device, differentiates pedestrians from bicyclists and others based on their traveling speed, and further evaluating risk by their direction.