Trucks at Work

The vehicle as digital assistant

Time used to be that we viewed vehicles as a way to transport ourselves as well as a host of goods from point A to point B (and thus sparing potentially millions of horses from backbreaking work in the process).

Now, more and more, vehicles are being equipped with technologies that will enable them to drive themselves, locate available parking spaces, create a “virtual safety net” for our oh-so-fallible human senses … and now sort through our musical preferences and pay our bills.

Will they one day walk dogs too? At this point, nothing seems out of bounds.

For example, take a look at the new FordPass service Ford Motor Co. plans to launch in April – initially free to Ford owners and non-owners alike – the OEM hopes “will do for car owners what iTunes did for music fans.”

Members of FordPass members get access to 24/7 personal mobility assistants dubbed “FordGuides” who form a sort of “concierge” to help book parking spaces, craft specs for a new vehicle purchase, and more.

The OEM said it is working with ParkWhiz and Parkopedia to help people find and pay for parking more easily, and also with FlightCar to borrow and share vehicles when they travel.

In the future, Ford expects FordPass to offer more services that will include ride sharing, car sharing, multi-modal transportation and more.

FordPass users can also pay for such services through FordPay – a virtual wallet.

Meanwhile, Ford owners use FordPass to schedule maintenance and service appointments with dealers and review their Ford Credit vehicle finance account details. Owners of Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC Connect can also use FordPass to access vehicle features such as remote start; lock and unlock; fuel, oil and battery charge levels; tire pressure readings; and to locate their vehicle, noted Stephen Odell, Ford’s executive VP-global marketing, sales and service

“FordPass is about convenience,” he said in a statement. “We’re connecting consumers with the world, making it all incredibly easy.”

By the by, FordPass results from an 18-month development effort led by Elena Ford, the OEM’s VP-global dealer and consumer experience, to design a system/service aimed at making consumers’ lives easier during those 900-plus hours a year they spend in a vehicle moving between home, work, school and social events.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (FCA) – of which Ram Trucks is a subsidiary – are also heading down this road to a degree, with a new updated version of its Uconnect system, recently showed off at the 2016 CES show.

The all-new Uconnect 12.1 system, demonstrated on a 2016 Dodge Charger Pursuit sedan at the CES show last week in Las Vegas, offers a range of new features:

  • Capacitive touchscreens, faster startup time,s enhanced processing power, heightened touchscreen responsiveness, vivid touchscreens with improved resolution and brightness, plus an updated Uconnect 8.4 NAV system.
  • Apple CarPlay, which seamlessly integrates an iPhone with the car’s built-in display and controls in addition to featuring Siri voice control. Now drivers can make phone calls, access music, send and receive messages, get directions optimized for traffic conditions and more while staying focused on the road.
  • Android Auto, which features Google Maps with free voice-guided navigation, live traffic information, lane guidance; on-demand access to 30 million songs with Google Play Music; plus the ability to place hands-free phone calls and send/receive messages.

FCA also displayed some new concept features it is “exploring” for use within its Uconnect system as well:

  • Predictive technology to monitor daily driver habits, including traffic patterns, personal calendar events and personal preferences so the vehicle’s Uconnect system can deliver personalized information to the driver at the exact moment needed.
  • Vehicle-to-X communication that enables vehicles to communicate with each other and the roadside. FCA believes integrating wireless technology into the vehicle can help provide drivers with warnings and reduce the risk of such common crash types as rear-end, lane change and intersection crashes.
  • Workload manager, which helps to limit distraction by recognizing when the driver may be in a critical driving situation and prioritizing which information is presented to the driver in those instances.
  • Privacy mode, which, when Uconnect detects a passenger within the vehicle, can transfer the driver’s personal information from the Uconnect system to the driver’s instrument cluster.
  • Intelligent concierge, which “learns” driver preferences and ten provides personalized suggestions in anticipation of driver needs.
  • Community tagging, which enables the vehicle to identify hazardous road conditions and automatically share that information with community members who may be approaching the same location.
  • Follow-me mode, which enables community members to request to follow other vehicles.
  • Augmented reality heads-up display, which transforms the windshield into a display that provides driver assistance information, such as blind spot detection, parking assistance and ice and snow road lane assists.

At this rate, we’re not going to have steering wheels anymore.

Won’t that be the day.

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