Ford's California Research Lab Looks to the Future

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Ford does a pretty good job of communicating to the media what new technology it's working on. For the last few years, Ford's chief technology officer Raj Nair has made a point of inviting the media to Ford's Detroit facilities to learn the latest. Sometimes we experienced the new tech firsthand and other times we only heard about future ideas from enthusiastic engineers.

This year was a little different. First of all, we didn't go to Detroit. Instead we were invited to Ford's Research and Innovation Center near San Francisco, where we tried out some brand-new technology and toured the facility. The walk around gave us the opportunity to speak with Ford engineers about everything from fully autonomous vehicles to data-collecting cyclists to 3-D printing. Here are just some of things we learned.


All-New Sync 3 System

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Replacing the often-dissed four-quadrant MyFord Touch multimedia system, the all-new Sync 3 communication and navigation setup — which will debut in the 2016 Ford Escape, Mustang, Fiesta and F-150 — operates much more like a smartphone or tablet. The biggest improvements are in how quickly the touch-screen responds to a command, how well and fast the new voice-command software works, and how detailed the navigation screens can be. We saw the new Sync 3 in a new Escape and found the 8-inch screen and fonts much easier to read; commands and functions are more intuitive and easier to find. This will be a huge improvement for 2016 F-150 buyers who opt for the new system.


Pro Trailer Backup Assist

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This was our second opportunity to spend some quality time with the segment-exclusive trailering package, and we have to admit it took us some time to get used to it. This camera-based, computer-controlled system takes over the steering functions of your truck while guiding your trailer in Reverse. Some folks find it a challenge to back up a trailer. This system simplifies the process. A small knob just below the four-wheel-drive dial (and above the brake controller) allows you to steer the trailer in either direction by turning the knob in the direction you want the trailer to go. Since the vehicle controls the steering when the Pro Trailer Backup Assist — a horribly clumsy name — is activated all the driver has to do is control the vehicle speed (which is already restricted by the system) and the brakes. Just look at the mirrors and turn the knob in the direction you want the trailer to go; turn a little for a soft turn or turn fully for a tighter turn. When you want the trailer to go straight, just release the knob; it slides back to center, and your trailer straightens out.


Cameras Everywhere

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Apparently cameras are the new cupholders, according to one of Ford's top design engineers. Just as with the advent of cupholders in vehicles, it wasn't that long ago when you couldn't find a camera in a new vehicle. However, it's likely future vehicles will have at least a few of them. Starting in 2019, all model-year 2018 cars and trucks will be required to have a backup camera to give the driver a view of what's behind the vehicle. But some new technologies require many more. The 2016 F-150 will have front, rear and side cameras to offer a full 360-degree view to the driver, as well as a forward-looking camera behind the rearview mirror that monitors high beams and lane-keeping assist. (The 2015 offered the 360-degree view.) We were also told the next-generation Super Duty will have an option that will include seven cameras, a record for any non-autonomous Ford vehicle. We assume that means it will have all the safety technology of the F-150 but with the addition of two more cameras — possibly one on the cab to view bed cargo or for fifth-wheel/gooseneck towing, and maybe another in the cab for driver or line-of-sight recognition.


F-150 Special Edition Appearance Package

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The new 2016 F-150 Special Edition Appearance Package will allow Ford owners to further individualize their pickup's look and style. With a new color (Lithium) and graphics package, the SE will be offered only on XLT and Lariat models that have the Sport Appearance Package. Some may not like the black-and-red swoosh graphic along the sides of the truck, but we like that Ford took great pains to flow those colors in everything from the F-150 logos to the seats to the rims and even out to the front grille. No word on pricing, but we assume it will be slightly more expensive than the existing Sport Appearance Package.


Pickup Parts From 3-D Printers?

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Although there's nothing particularly new about using 3-D printers to help make prototype parts (Ford already uses the process on several models), the technology is advancing quickly to allow these machines more flexibility and precision. As a result, more complex parts and shapes are being created, and more diverse materials are being used to form them. During our tour, we saw many examples of varying sizes and shape from prototype cylinder heads to tool molds to nylon-reinforced hose connectors — all made from a special light- and oxygen-emitting printer. If nothing else, the complex shapes and weave patterns produced by these machines will help fill empty spaces within vehicles with reinforced lattice to help improve passenger protection during an accident. These parts can be made out of strong, light, flexible materials and could easily replace heavier structures. photos by Mark Williams


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Nothing new here, our 5 year old vehicle has back up cameras. With the new back up trailer system, not sure which has a longer learning curve for some folks, Backing a trailer by looking in the mirror and turning the steering wheel or a knob???? And to Eric, I am glad they all "spy" on us....the ACLU takes more of our freedoms to live a normal life away every day

@LouBC, Been there done that already.

2015 RAM HD

Designed with safety and security in mind, this class-exclusive available cargo-view camera+ allows drivers to view their truck bed contents from their dash display. This innovative feature helps keep drivers free from worry and distraction knowing they’ll always have a watchful eye on everything they carry.

And with CLASS EXCLUSIVE features like the Cargo View Camera, Electronic Stability Control and the “Smart” Brake, getting the job done means getting the job done right, done safely and done efficiently.




@ Eric what makes so so important? That you think the government cares what you say,or where you are going.

If you don't want to be spied on, go buy a 1970's car with very few computers in it.


The gubmint loves to spy on us citizens. Ever heard of the NSA? They can use this new technology to monitor your speed (with the help of Ford, GM, Toyota) and issue instant traffic tickets. No signal, instant ticket. No seatbelt, instant ticket. Great source of revenue for the gubmint.

RAM is the technology leader.


And forever stuck in turd place.

@Chuck Taylor I'll buy one Ford stock wipe my @#% with it, then sell to you for double the price.

Hemivd make sure you don't put the wrong washer fluid in your ram it will ruin the tank sensor on that high tech car of yours.

VW has introduced a totally automated Trailer Asist in Europe
Here is the Video

Where's Tom#3? Oh wait he's that Ford engineer now. I forgot.

Ford is junk buy a GM, heck a Ridgeline is better then an F-150 and thats saying a lot.

@ Eric, you do know that with ALL the electronics today, most all the cell we use can and do track you. But you knew that! And you know that the computer under the seats of many car mfg's such as Toyota & GM track how you drive. And in the chance you get into an accident in your Toyota or GM a court order they read how fast you were going, IF you hit brakes and used a turn signal.
So if you hate Ford, that's fine, say it in one sentence and move on. Don't make it sound like Ford is the first company to track anything, cause many mfg's have been doing tracking for a long time now. No avoiding the electronics. Here to stay.

If your car, any manufacture, has a computer diagnostic port your every move is being recorded and a loop cycle. You get into and accident law enforce can plug in on probable cause or hold your vehicle until they get a warrant to plug in and get a snap shot of your driving.... If you say you were on the brakes the computer will tell them if you were and how much brake pressure you were applying....... etc etc etc. They can all get a snap shot of your speed, steering angle sensors, throttle positioning... etc etc etc. No more lying your way out of an at fault accident. This can also help you in proving your innocence if need be. Just not ford but all do this and many have join forces in preventing you, Eric, from messing with your vehicle. The boogy man is coming to get you and its name just isn't ford... Its Chevy,GMC,Ram, Toyota, etc etc etc. All the auto's know what you have been doing.... Guess what you can buy a ram with air suspension.... You overload it there is a code stored in the computer of the vehicle that is always there forever that said you overloaded it and can never be gotten rid of....

This is why I'll never give up my 78 d-150.

I don't know where Tom#3 is, but I am here. I am not going to comment on this article, because I can't tell you any secrets.

Tom#3 can.

You have to wait, when Tom#3 comes back from holidays.

as usual everyone will complain about Fords new stuff then the others will follow and say how great it is many years later, enough said


The "Tin foil hat" crowd surfaces.

There was a story a while back where a Ford executive mentioned that they could track vehicles by on board GPS and Sync.

That raised a furor amount the great unwashed but NOT the tech savvy.

An expert on one site outlined the amount of data that one would have to collect and the computing capacity necessary to do it. Then what would you do with the data and how would you interpret it????????
He said that there wasn't enough computing capacity to make sense of any of that data.

With that being said, GM OnStar is more intrusive. Ram's system also performs similarly to the competition.

You have a cell phone?

You have a phone?

You have a computer?

It all tracts what you do to some degree.

And in other Ford F150 news.

US opens probe of Ford F-150 power brake failures

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. safety regulators are investigating complaints that the power brake assist can fail on some Ford F-150 pickup trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the probe covers about 250,000 pickups from the 2011 and 2012 model years with 3.5-liter six-cylinder turbocharged engines.

The agency says in documents posted on its website Friday that it has 32 complaints alleging that electric vacuum assist pumps can fail, causing loss of power brakes and increased braking effort in traffic. Two crashes were reported but no injuries.

Ford's F-Series trucks are the top-selling vehicles in the U.S.

Many of the people complaining wrote that the problem happens when they first start the trucks. One wrote about losing power brakes while backing up at 5 miles per hour and crashing into a tree. "Cannot park in garage as may hit house or garage or kids when backing out," another person wrote. People who file complaints are not identified in NHTSA's public database.

In all the complaints, no dashboard warnings were issued before the problem happened. The agency says the complaint trend is increasing, with about 60 percent coming in the past nine months.

Investigators will look into the cause of the problem and how often it happens. The probe could lead to a recall.

Ford says it's cooperating with the probe and that customers who experience problems should contact their dealer.

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