Smile, your car is on candid camera

Last week I mentioned the Ford Trends conference that I attended in Dearborn. One of the sessions described an effort between Ford and Intel called Mobile Interior Imaging, or Project Mobii that I found fascinating.

As you might know, cars are coming with more cameras to keep track of their movements. There have been rear-facing cameras for years that are available to help backing into parking spaces or seeing heretofore hidden obstacles, and cameras are also on the side of vehicles and used for things like Ford’s parallel parking assist technology. I have been in several cars now that seemingly know exactly when and where to turn: all you have to do is shift from forward to reverse when the car tells you. And Ford has put a camera on the front of its pickup trucks, complete with a small washing device to keep the lens clean, to track tailgating and lane changes.

But the Intel Mobii project is all about cameras inside the vehicle. The idea is to recognize particular drivers and passengers and make the driving experience more personal, such as seat adjustment, contacts and music preferences displayed on the entertainment system. And, if an unrecognized driver sits behind the wheel, you will receive a photo of who is driving your car and could potentially disable the ignition system. Or perhaps a parent could prevent their car from being driven late at night or faster than a certain speed. Intel and Ford have developed apps for smartphones to track and monitor these functions. The mind boggles at the potential uses. Here is a short promo video that Intel developed.

Right now Mobii is just a research project, so don’t expect these interior camera systems anytime soon. But the spread of the parking assist technology has been very rapid. This time at the Trends conference I could use that technology to park in an empty spot between a row of cars in addition to the standard parallel parking situation. And the cameras on the outside of the vehicle also determine when you are drifting into another lane and warn you with either a vibrating steering wheel or gently moving your car back into the right lane position, which was amazing.

Mobii isn’t the only thing that Ford engineers are cooking up with advanced tech. At the conference, Don Butler, who runs the Connected Vehicles program, spoke about how the new Mustangs next model year will offer an advanced 911 response system. When you get into an accident, the car will call the nearest 911 PSAP and using a voice synthesizer tell the operator where you are and what is the condition of your car, whether air bags have deployed and how fast you decelerated. This is an enhancement to similar technology that is already in more than 7 million Fords on the road today, leveraging their Sync entertainment system. Speaking of Sync, they are also looking at the collection of massive system data from all of the cars in a certain geographic area. This could be useful during the next polar vortex to determine if Ford should change engine settings to better handle the colder weather, as an example.

As you might imagine, car owners have to opt-in to share all this data with Ford. Certainly, there are privacy issues to consider, but I like what they are doing and it was exciting to see some of the advances first-hand.


4 thoughts on “Smile, your car is on candid camera

  1. David,
    Thanks for sharing this article. My family has been Ford owners for the past 15 years and I just bought my latest Ford Mustang and it is amazing how far the technology has come (I just have some apps and Sync). I work in the Microsoft ecosystem and have seen first hand how intelligent systems are on the rise and now Microsoft even has a competency for intelligent and embedded systems and the cloud will of course be a big thing in the mix of everything. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. David: As always, a very interesting column. While you focused on the interior systems, the external systems are amazing. Just think about V2V and V2X (vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure) communications systems, and how driving in the future will be far more automated and much safer that being on the road today. Excellent column.

  3. This idea has been around since 2007 as the DriveCam which mounted on the rear-view mirror. The device buffered video and detected a collision with its accelerometer.

    It seems the company changed direction and renamed itself to Lytx focusing on vertical markets. I guess that is where the money is for now.

    Collision notification in Onstar has been around for years as well!

  4. Dave,
    This is amazing! And to think when I was growing up my Dad told me about the 250 air conditioning system (roll 2 windows down and drive about 50 – for the younger generations). Was there anything about integrating content with the Ford Sync system – like podcasts?

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