Ford is working on an app that uses Bluetooth LE to warn drivers of nearby cyclists.
The car manufacturer has announced this (opens in new tab) It is working with Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile and Tome Software on “an affordable and scalable smartphone-based communications technology that could one day potentially help alert drivers to — even pedestrians — cyclists and more.” that are not directly visible.”
The app, which Ford currently calls a “concept smartphone app,” would run on a cyclist’s (or pedestrian, e-scooter user, or other vulnerable road user’s) smartphone and would use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to communicate their location with a connected Ford vehicle. When the vehicle calculated a potential crash risk, Ford technology called Ford SYNC would display graphics of cyclists, pedestrians or others on the in-vehicle SYNC screen while audio alerts sounded.
The technology is scheduled to be demonstrated this week at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America World Convention in Los Angeles (opens in new tab) – and Ford will also be demonstrating a version of it that uses T-Mobile’s 5G network for “even more reliable communications”. The 5G network is also said to help minimize data round-trip time, allowing detection alerts to be quickly sent to the vehicle’s SYNC screen.
The system would work similarly to the Covid contact tracing app – AKA Exposure Notifications System – developed jointly by Google and Apple to help combat the pandemic.
In this situation, smartphones worked together to share information via Bluetooth and – as many people discovered when they were “pinged” even though a Covid-positive person’s phone was in the neighboring house – Ford’s app would “see” through obstacles such as walls . Unlike cameras or radar, BLE does not rely on line-of-sight detection, meaning it can detect cyclists even when behind buildings or other vehicles.
BLE is not only used in smartphones, but also in fitness devices such as power meters and heart rate monitors (opens in new tab). While these BLE applications generally involve pairing two devices, Ford’s concept uses BLE as a beacon capable of detecting multiple other similarly equipped devices within range without pairing, meaning it should be able to spotting them from a range of around 100 meters – although Ford’s press release doesn’t specify a range.
According to Ford, the in-vehicle system interprets that a vulnerable road user is using the device, distinguishes pedestrians from cyclists and others based on their driving speed, and further assesses risk based on their direction.
Will the technology also be introduced by other vehicle manufacturers? Ford is a founding member of the Vulnerable Road Users Safety Consortium (opens in new tab) (VRUSC), formed by vehicle, bicycle, ridesharing and technology companies to find technological solutions to increasing accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists and others. Tome Software founded the Bike-to-Vehicle Advisory Board. So it would be nice if Ford developed and shared the technology responsibly, although the market rarely works that way.
We assume the system will rely on cyclists, pedestrians, e-scooter users, etc. downloading the app, which is the other potential stumbling block: there’s a chance the Ford app may be viewed by some vulnerable road users as further attempt at victim is rejected accusations of blame by the car lobby.
It should probably not be the duty of the cyclist or pedestrian to download the Ford app to ensure or enhance their safety. Or the existence of an app as an excuse for drivers to drive without making sufficient use of their senses.
And finally, the words “potentially” and “someday” figure at the top of the press release, suggesting that Ford won’t commit to a date to launch it just yet.