What was the last technology that impressed you so much you had to tell someone about it?
For drivers, maybe it was when cars started helping you to park – to the extent they could even find a space and provide the steering inputs? Or maybe it was when vehicles started displaying the speed limit in the information panel – so you no longer had to remember the sign you last passed?
For the past 20 years, Ford’s European Research & Innovation Centre, has played a key role in helping develop just such technologies.
The Centre is located in Aachen, Germany, an ancient city with a long tradition as a centre of automotive excellence.
(We even work closely with RWTH Aachen University, on research that includes the recently announced Personal Mobility Experience Innovation project, designed to help enable Ford to meet customers’ changing preferences and expectations for personal mobility.)
Here are just 20 of the innovations that have come out of the Ford European Research & Innovation Centre, Aachen.
1: Sign of the times?
We’ve all been there. One minute you’re happily driving along the road. The next, the sight of a speed camera has you wracking your brains to recall the speed limit. Not anymore. Traffic Sign Recognition displays the signs to the driver – as well as any overtaking restrictions
2: Power to the people
Only one engine ever has ever been named International Engine of the Year three years running. The 1.0-litre EcoBoost won in 2014, 2013, and 2012. Powerful, and fuel-efficient, its turbocharger spins at almost twice the max rpm of those found in F1 race car engines
3: The car that brakes for cars
At speeds of up to 30 mph, our most advanced Active City Stop system can apply the brakes automatically if the driver does not respond to warnings. It helps reduce the severity of rear-end collisions and, in some cases, can even prevent an accident entirely
4: The car that brakes for pedestrians
Like Active City Stop, Pedestrian Detection also can apply the brakes if the driver does not respond to warnings, this time when people are in the road ahead. The system also can identify people that it predicts could stray from the pavement – and into the path of a vehicle
5: Parking made easy
For some, parking presents some of the most stressful moments of the day. Our cars now offer technology that can help you parallel park, park side-to-side with other vehicles, and even warn drivers reversing out of a space when vehicles may soon be passing behind them
6: …or even at the push of a button
And now we are developing a new technology that could enable drivers to park with only the push of a button, from inside or outside of their car. The technology, currently in the prototype phase, controls steering, gear selection, and forward and reverse motion
7: Not to be sneezed at
Increasing numbers of people now suffer from allergies, and sneezing at 60 mph may result in “driving blind” for up to 20 metres. Our new air filtration system blocks up to 99 per cent of pollen, almost all nitrogen dioxide and gaseous pollutants and odours
8: Easy street
Today’s cars help ensure increasing numbers of older drivers can stay on the road longer, with new technologies and thoughtful design. By wearing a “Third Age Suit”, complete with goggles, ear muffs, and weights, our engineers improve their understanding of drivers whose mobility, vision, and hearing may be impaired
9: Kick out the jams
We are developing technology that could in future enable cars to automatically keep pace with other vehicles and provide automated steering control to stay in the current lane. The prototype Traffic Jam Assist system is designed to reduce driver stress and fatigue, and potentially improve traffic flow
10: Computer love
RUTH the Robot – aka the Robotised Unit for Tactility and Haptics – is the world’s first robot to scientifically evaluate the look and feel of vehicle interiors. How? By helping meet customer preferences for how surfaces should feel – how soft, how hard, how hot, how cold…
11: Courtesy lights
Being able to see clearly makes a big difference to driving safely – especially at night. However, it is important this is not at the expense of other drivers’ visibility. Glare-Free Highbeam detects vehicles ahead and fades out light that could dazzle, while retaining maximum illumination for other areas
12: Heartbeat city
For some, cars are a passion to set the pulse racing. So how about a car – that can measure your pulse? We are developing an ECG Heart Rate Monitoring Seat which, as well as alerting remote medical experts to unusual activity, could – in a future scenario – even trigger safety systems to take over in an emergency.
13: Power of choice
There was a time when diesel engines were slow, noisy and just for buses. Twenty years of research at Aachen has changed this. Today, advanced diesel engine technologies can be found in everything from our small cars and people movers to our powerful Focus ST. In addition, we already offer a zero emission car in Europe – the Focus Electric. We also are exploring another zero emission alternative to petrol and diesel power, using fuel cell technology vehicles that emit only water and heat.
14: Weight and see
Lighter materials enable the development of cars that are more fuel efficient, with the possibility to invest the weight saved in further technologies. For example, just the use of magnesium in the new Mondeo tailgate helps achieve a weight-saving of around 25 kg compared to the previous model
15: (Don’t) keep the motor running
Auto-Start-Stop was developed to improve fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions, simply by shutting down the engine when the vehicle is idling and restarting again when the driver wants to move off
16: Blink and you won’t miss it
Once, people only saw all-wheel-drive as a means for driving off-road. Systems have moved on a little since then. Intelligent All-Wheel-Drive reassesses conditions 20 times faster than it takes to blink, to provide more grip at low speeds, and a better driving response at higher speeds.
17: The competitive Edge
Sometimes you need steering that is more sensitive, such as at lower speeds, to make a vehicle easier to turn or park. When driving faster, smoother and more precise steering makes for comfortable cruising. We’ll see this on the new Edge large SUV for Europe
18: Packing a punch
RevoKnuckle helped turn passenger vehicles into performance cars, by optimising the steering and handling, so the old Focus RS could tear up the racetrack.
19: The missing link
Optimising the suspension means more than simply a comfortable journey. For the new Mondeo, the rear integral link suspension also helps deliver a better driving experience, is better able to deal with bumps, and helps reduce noise inside the car
20: Ahead of the curve
We continually collaborate with other manufacturers to explore the capability of car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication technology which will be the technical enabler for a new generation of driver assistance and intelligent transport systems. For example, the “Electronic Brake Light” warns instantly the drivers in the cars following behind, by transmitting a wireless signal in case of an emergency braking manoeuvre.