Ford Researching Bluetooth Connected Smartphone App to Boost Road Safety

Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn is researching new smartphone-based communications technology that could potentially help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists, and those approaching a vehicle’s path but blocked from a driver’s view.
Autonomous self driving cars in a roundabout (traffic circle) next to a highway. The cars are connected with each other with lines illustrating data transfers, GPS information and artificial intelligence used in the future of self driving cars.
Ford is researching connected vehicle technology that would rely on bluetooth positioning rather than line-of-sight data to warn drivers of oncoming hazards. // Stock Photo

Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn is researching new smartphone-based communications technology that could potentially help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists, and those approaching a vehicle’s path but blocked from a driver’s view.

The concept smartphone app running on a pedestrian’s phone uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) messaging to communicate their location to a connected Ford vehicle. If the vehicle calculates a potential crash risk, Ford SYNC can alert drivers by the in-vehicle screen showing graphics of pedestrians, bicyclists, or more with audio alerts sounding.

“Newer Ford vehicles already (equipped) with Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology can detect and help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders and others — and even apply brakes if drivers do not respond in time,” says Jim Buczkowski, executive director of research and advanced engineering.

“We are now exploring ways to expand vehicle sensing capability for areas drivers cannot see to help people drive even more confidently on roads increasingly shared by others using their two feet or two wheels.”

Ford, Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile, and Tome Software are demonstrating the technology at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s World Congress in Los Angeles this week.

Ford is a founding member of the Vulnerable Road User Safety Consortium (VRUSC), a consortia program of SAE Industries Technology Consortia Programs (SAE ITC), an affiliate of SAE Group. The VRUSC was formed by vehicle, bicycle, ridesharing, and technology companies to find technological solutions to rising crashes with pedestrians, bicyclists and others.

National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data estimates traffic fatalities increased 13 percent to 7,342 in 2021 versus the prior year, while bicyclist traffic fatalities increased 5 percent to 1,000 during the same window.

“We see other possible applications for this technology, including detecting road construction zones and construction workers,” says Buczkowski. “Ford innovates for the masses, so it’s very promising to start with Bluetooth Low Energy technology that’s already become part of our everyday lives because it’s affordable and effective.”

BLE connectivity technology creates wireless personal area networks using radio waves in the 2.4-gigahertz band to communicate with other similarly equipped devices. It is already widely available in smartphones and is compatible with SYNC connected vehicle technology without any hardware changes to the vehicle.

Bluetooth Low Energy could complement other technologies by communicating with other similarly equipped devices with sufficient range for alerts with the potential of advancing safety through awareness of pedestrians, bicyclists and more.

It also does not rely on line-of-sight detection like cameras or radar, which means pedestrians and others can be detected while hidden behind obstructions such as buildings. This is especially relevant to the stress of big-city driving on shared roads.

BLE is widely used technology in personal electronics devices, including smartphones, fitness monitoring devices, location-based services, entertainment and much more. It uses very low power with batteries as small as dimes to operate for a very long time.

Consumer BLE applications commonly involve pairing two devices. But Ford’s concept uses BLE as a beacon capable of sensing multiple other similarly equipped devices in range without pairing.

The system interprets if a person is using the device, differentiates pedestrians from bicyclists and others based on their traveling speed, and further evaluates risks. BLE devices rapidly change communications channels — called frequency hopping — in the 2.4 GHz radio band to minimize interference.

Ford and T-Mobile will demonstrate the Ford app replacing BLE communication with T-Mobile’s 5G Advanced Network Solution combined with hyperscale computing — which adds resources from across a distributed computing network as demand increases — to help create more reliable communications. T-Mobile’s 5G network helps minimize the round-trip data travel time, allowing detection alerts to quickly be delivered to the vehicle’s SYNC screen.