When you get into your car, you usually have a good idea of where you are heading. But what if your car already knew?
It may not seem that important now, but as more vehicles switch to plug-in hybrid powertrains, and municipalities institute low-emissions zones that mandate the use of electric motors, optimizing battery life could become a major factor for millions of motorists around the world.
To facilitate the transition, Ford has teamed up with Google for a research project that aims to create a car with the ability to predict where it is going, and autonomously adjust the way it operates along the way.
Envisioned as an opt-in service, owners would have their driving habits monitored by a cloud-based computer program that incorporates Google Prediction API software, creating a model of their behavior over time, according to Ford Technical Expert Ryan McGee.
“When you turn on your car it’s going to go out to the cloud and ask that model a question,” McGee explains. “It’s Tuesday afternoon about five o’clock, it knows I tend to go home about that time and it says ‘ahh, Ryan’s going home from work today.’ Then it’s going to use that information to help schedule when it’s going to use the engine and the [electric motor].”
This way, if you have a plug-in hybrid vehicle with a 25 mile all-electric range and you are travelling from point A to point B, which is 100 miles away, and there’s an EV-only zone along your route, it will save its battery charge for the section where it needs it, rather than using it up at the beginning of the trip.
Although simple mapping software could potentially accomplish the same end if you manually input your final destination every time you get in the car, the idea behind the project is to take as much effort as possible away from the driver and hardware out of the car. But the unpredictable nature of human beings will still likely require a conversation between man and machine.
“We think there’s going to have to be an interaction that the customer has with the system. Because we don’t want to make a complete assumption if we think there’s going to be different behavior,” McGee tells FoxNews.com.
According to McGee, the technology could be in production within four to eight years, and Ford already has a fleet of prototype plug-in hybrid Ford Escapes using it in and around the company’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.
While EV-only zones are more of a European phenomenon at this time, the concept behind Ford’s research could have applications in other areas of vehicular performance. The Chevrolet Volt, for instance, has a function that allows it to maintain a higher level of charge in its battery pack than normal if the driver knows there’s a mountain ahead that may require extra power to get over and switches the car into this mode. Using predictive software, the vehicle could determine this need on its own, make the change, and let the driver worry about other things, like where to stop for lunch along the way.
After a few weeks together, the car will probably know before its owner does.