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For B-Max Synch

GLOBAL – You’re driving along the motorway, the phone goes, what do you do? Say “answer” and take the call via hands free? Or switch to auto-pilot and join a “platoon” of synced cars going to the same exit as you, and sit back for a chat.

This is part of American motor giant Ford’s vision of the long term future as explained at Mobile World Congress by visionary CEO Bill Ford.

And he realises he won’t get far with his dream without the help of the giants of the mobile industry like Nokia. Which is why he made the first keynote speech by an automotive executive at the Barcelona conference, to reach out to the mobile industry.

Explaining Ford’s Blueprint for mobility, he said: “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.

[do action=”boxout”]Traffic trauma

  • In Sao Paulo, Brazil, traffic jams regularly exceed 100 miles and the average commute lasts between 2 and 3 hours a day.
  • In China, the world’s longest period of gridlock was registered at 11 days during 2010.
  • In Germany, sustaining a town of 300,000 people is estimated to require 1,000 truck deliveries daily.[/do]

“The telecommunications industry is critical in the creation of an inter-connected transportation system where cars are intelligent and can talk to one another as well as the infrastructure around them.

“Now is the time for us all to be looking at vehicles on the road the same way we look at smartphones, laptops and tablets; as pieces of a much bigger, richer network.”

His words sprang to mind when reading our post about location and privacy at SXSW.  Ford clearly sees the potential for using location data for the common good.

The privacy element is already being addressed in the auto-world. For example, Vodafone anonymously shares its sim-card locations to feed into a GPS system so that jams can be located and drivers diverted.

But Ford intend to take mobile interaction much further by linking your car to the Cloud, so that it will get to know and store your road habits and feed back to your dashboard when necessary.

Let’s say you leave your home at 8am every day to get to work. The cloud link will recognise which route you are likely to take and will warn you of any congestion or hazards on the way, even suggesting alternatives.

Your car computer will have your favourite radio station ready, after identifying it’s really you by your weight on the seat or fingerprint recognition on the ignition.

When you run low on fuel, it will not only indicate low battery cell capacity and/or petrol, but will tell you the nearest garage with the lowest cost for a fill-up. If the cloud knows you like a particular brand of coffee, it may even find one that meets that requirement as well.

Ford illustrated their version of this technology at Mobile World Congress last month in the shape of their Evos concept car.

Paul Mascarenas, Ford chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Innovation said: “The Evos car gets to know you and can act as a personal assistant to handle some of the usual routines of a daily commute.”

And he clearly shares Nokia’s design priorities:  “We see technology as more than just an impressive list of microprocessors, sensors and software; it’s about the application of that technology to create an experience.”

The Cloud information is different from the simple anonymous location information that is shared and it would be kept personal according to whoever is “logged in” as the driver.

For now, Ford is releasing its first car in Europe which delivers voice-control of smartphone apps for the driver. The system, called SYNC was developed by Nokia partner Microsoft who are at the forefront of cloud technology.

You’ll be able to link Nokia smartphones to the Mobile World Congress award-winning system via Bluetooth.

The B-MAX – which has a revolutionary design that does away with a fixed central pillar between front and back doors – will do more than control your mobile phone via its voice-activation system.

It also has Emergency Assistance which automatically places a call to emergency services in the event of a crash, saving time and, potentially, lives.

Ford EVOS Concept

Eventually an additional AppLink feature will offer enhanced voice interaction, including:

  • Stitcher – a mobile app for streaming radio shows and podcasts directly to smart phones;
  • OpenBeak – an app that allows users to have Twitter updates read out to them;
  • SYNC Destinations powered by INRIX – a free app for SYNC Services users that combines with SYNC AppLink to deliver quick, on-the-go, voice-controlled access to the latest traffic reports and and forecasts.
Ford B-MAX

SYNC already features in more than 4 million vehicles in the U.S. and its European introduction through the B-MAX is aiming towards a worldwide target of 13 million users by 2015.

And clearly, Nokia phones, with their rich location-based apps have the potential to make a huge contribution to drivers in this motoring evolution.