14
Sep
09

Car harnesses fighter jet technology

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

 

The Ford motor company has harnessed technology from the F22 fighter jet as part of its bid to make its new Taurus “America’s smartest full-sized sedan”.

Radar devices are aimed at helping avoid crashes by sounding an alarm and flashing red lights when the driver gets too close to another car.

This hi-tech gadget is just one of a host being used by Ford to revive what was once the company’s top seller.

“This is game changing for safety,” said Ford’s safety head Steve Kozak.

“The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the US put out a report last year saying if every vehicle in the US were equipped with this forward collision warning system, we’d save about 7,000 lives a year,” Mr Kozak told BBC News.

Ford came to San Francisco as part of a 100-city tour to let journalists dive under the hood of the $30,000 (£18,000) car and give them access to a host of lead engineers.

Open source

The Taurus was discontinued after more than 20 years amid slumping sales and competition from Japanese carmakers but has been re-invented as part of a mission to redefine the company.

 Ford was one of the few carmakers not to take bailout money from the government or file for bankruptcy, but it has struggled in recent years announcing record losses of $14.6bn (9bn) in 2008.

Radar is also located on the rear bumper of the Taurus to help prevent rear-end crashes, and warn drivers when they drift out of their lanes or if cars are in their blind spots.

Ford said the F22 radar technology which they took and built upon was all open source.

“F22 fighter jets use this advanced radar that can read down the road and identify everything from trees to people,” said Pete Reyes, Ford’s chief engineer for the 2010 Taurus.

“We then added our own Ford algorithms to determine whether or not objects are a ‘vehicle target’.

“Then it monitors the vehicle target and always knows your position relative to those vehicle targets,” explained Mr Reyes.

Teen safety

Ford says its vehicle features technological innovations which are not available all together in one car in its bracket.

These include a voice-activated navigation system, multi-contour seats that massage the driver to prevent tiredness, a surround-sound system and a technology called MyKey.

With car accidents being cited as the leading cause of death for teenagers, MyKey is aimed at parents who want to control some of their children’s driving behaviour.

When the car is started with MyKey, top speeds can be limited to 80mph (130kph) and chimes can be set to sound as the car goes above 45mph.

If the young driver does not put on their seat belt, another chime rings and – possibly more importantly to teens – the sound system will not start until the driver and passenger have buckled up.

Auto journalist Carey Russ sounded a note of caution.

“Too much safety equipment can lull people into thinking they don’t need to pay attention and lead them to believe that if they do crash they will be safe.”

“As technology is changing our lives with cell phones, media players, PCs and the internet, we are applying all of that to the car,” said Ford director of electronics Jim Buczkowski.

“This is about the democratisation of technology and in the Taurus we are combining the features and technology that customers want.”

Jon Alain Guzik, editor-in-chief of DriverSide.com said “As the consumer gets a lot more enthusiastic about technology and as technology starts mediating our lives a little more, we will see more of this filter down into the less expensive cars.

“Ford’s value proposition here is impressive – it’s BMW technology at a Ford price.”

‘Driver focused’

One of the other technologies Ford touted was its EcoBoost Turbo charger which adds another 101 HP (horse power) to a 249HP engine while still meeting the government’s fuel efficiency requirements.

The Taurus 2010 will average 17mpg in the city and 25mpg on the motorway, on a par with the competition, according to the consumer auto site Edmund.com.

“The turbo charger simply means is if you have a V6 engine it will deliver the power of a V8 with the fuel economy of a V6,” said Mr Reyes.

Ford also demonstrated the self-park technology on its Lincoln brand.

Using sensors, the car will find a parking space and reverse park. The driver takes their hands off the steering wheel but still operates the accelerator and the brake.

Charles Donaldson of Autofastracks.com was impressed by his test drive.

“It’s a very intelligent system,” he said. “It knew where the parking space was and certainly made parallel parking much easier than I have found it in the past.”

As well as highlighting its technological advances and touring around the country, he company is using Facebook and Twitter to get out the message that “Ford is back”.

“The Taurus 2010 is a statement about where Ford is going,” said Mr Reyes.

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