In outdoor-enthusiast cities like Austin, Texas, cyclists and pedestrians share the road with motorists, trying to carve out a peaceful and safe coexistence. Unfortunately, the number of traffic and bicyclist fatalities is increasing in these cities and around the country. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic fatalities increased 13% to 7,342 in 2021 versus 2020 and bicyclist traffic fatalities increased 5% (for a total of 1,000) during the same time period.
Ford is aiming to improve that number with a new concept smartphone app that helps alert drivers to people on two wheels or two feet on the road. The technology harnesses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to notify connected Ford vehicle drivers of pedestrians and bicyclists, even if they’re hidden from view.
BLE was created in 2011 to use the same radio wavebands as typical Bluetooth, but to do the same function using less battery power. The way that works is BLE devices remain asleep in between connections, transferring data with the smallest amount of power as possible.
In conjunction with Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile and Tome Software, Ford developed the concept, and the automaker is demonstrating it at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s (ITSA) World Congress in Los Angeles. Ohio State University and T-Mobile are household names, but less so is Commsignia, which was launched a decade ago and focuses on research and application of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-everything technology. PSS provides safety innovation and education, and Tome Software has worked with Ford before on bicycle-to-vehicle communications.
This new smartphone-based concept technology works as an app on a pedestrian’s or cyclist’s phone to communicate their location to a connected Ford vehicle. When a potential crash risk is detected, Ford’s in-car Sync system alerts the driver with graphics and audio alerts.
Ford says its newer vehicles equipped with Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology can use this app to avoid a crash and apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond in time.
“We see other possible applications for this technology, including detecting road construction zones and construction workers,” said Ford’s Executive Director, Research and Advanced Engineering, Jim Buczkowski in a press release.
Unlike radar or cameras, both of which rely on line-of-sight to assess a risky situation, BLE can detect pedestrians and bicycle riders even when hidden behind obstructions such as buildings, poles, signs and other common city obstacles. While typical Bluetooth connections require pairing, this BLE connection does not, which gives it better opportunities to help.
The concept app has the potential to save more lives and keep distracted drivers from veering into a bike lane or onto a soft shoulder where fellow humans may be walking.