Tech

Ford wants to build a Waze-like system directly into cars

Under a new initiative, Ford vehicles automatically collect accident data from a vehicle and send it to the cloud.

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Ford announced this week that it has started sharing accident data collected from its cars, including airbag activations, emergency braking, and fog light usage, with other automakers. Limited to Europe for now, the idea is that the data can be distributed to all drivers on the road and alert them when there may be problems ahead.

Improving road safety — The program was initially limited to Ford vehicles and called Local Hazard Information. It's most akin to Waze, the crowdsourcing app that allows users to file reports about obstacles or incidents on the road, so other drivers know to take a different route if, for example, they want to avoid a speed trap (we won't judge). But whereas Waze requires users to manually submit reports, Local Hazard Information passively sends data to the cloud.

Ford's accident reporting program first launched with the Ford Puma in early 2020. The company says more than 80 percent of its passenger vehicle lineup is supposed to gain support for the data-sharing service by the end of 2021.

Real-time data on road conditions would help the most drivers if it were shared across multiple car makers, and that's already happening in Europe. Ford last month partnered with the European Union and multiple automakers there to create a "Safety-Related Traffic Information (SRTI) ecosystem" to share accident data across various brands of passenger cars. Other automakers to join the program include BMW and Mercedes-Benz, among others.

“Road-safety data sharing ecosystems are more effective the more vehicles and telematics sources they include," said Peter Geffers, a Ford manager for connected vehicles. "Extending the benefits of this technology to those who do not drive Ford cars represents a significant step forward.” The announcement still kind of feels like an ad to buy a Ford car for the Local Hazard Information system it already has, but it's good that the company is working with other automakers on this initiative.

Ford envisions road warnings appearing right on your dashboard.Ford

Connected cars — Of course, data is expected to improve road safety dramatically in the coming years as companies like Tesla and Google develop self-driving cars that learn from data collected by many cars.

Self-driving could still be a decade or longer away, but the advent of 5G today may deliver safer driving by taking on the burden of handling all the real-time accident data that will be sent to the cloud. Some of it may be hot air and marketing, but 5G does bring with it higher bandwidth and the ability to allocate portions of the network to specific uses-cases like automotive, helping to provide low-latency and therefore faster throughput.

These new data sharing networks combined with existing driver assist and emergency braking technology should made for significant strides in road safety.