One good thing from the pandemic is that more and more people are riding bikes. In the first three months of 2021, US consumer spending on bicycles and cycling accessories grew 34% year-over-year. 8.2 billion dollars. However, the pandemic has also resulted in more deaths and injuries from cycling. Follow National Safety Council1,260 cyclists were killed in 2020, up 16% from 2019.
That’s a problem Ford that technology can solve. On Monday, the automaker announced it is working with Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile and Tome Software to explore how a smartphone app could warn drivers of pedestrians and cyclists they have may not be seen. As a carpooler, you’ll install the company’s software on your phone. With the help of Bluetooth Low Energy, vehicles with Ford’s Sync infotainment system will treat you as a “beacon.” If the vehicle then determines that a collision is likely, it will warn the driver with audio-visual signals.
According to Ford, its approach has several advantages. One is the almost universal Bluetooth LE. This technology has been part of the Bluetooth protocol since 2009, which means that every modern smartphone has access to it. If you own a Ford car, you won’t need to bring it car to a dealer for hardware upgrades as the Sync system features Bluetooth compatibility. Another advantage of using Bluetooth LE is that your car won’t need to see pedestrians and cyclists before it can warn you. Ford and T-Mobile are also working on a version of the app that uses 5G instead of Bluetooth LE.
In fact, the company’s approach is reminiscent of COVID exposure notification app several countries and states deployed at the beginning of the pandemic. As you may recall, those people also use Bluetooth LE. However, even though backing from Apple and Google, they are never effective due to low usage. For example, in Canada, the federal COVID Alert app is downloaded only 6.9 million times and recorded 63,117 positive tests. In other words, nowhere are enough Canadians downloading the software to make it an effective contact tracing tool. Ford’s apps can experience some of the same problems.
As a biking enthusiast, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen cycling at night without visible LED lights in traffic. On the other hand, statistics show that the driver drove stronger in recent years, leading to the aforementioned increase in cyclist deaths as well as traffic accidents. Any form of intervention would be welcome, but Ford’s application is unlikely to become a meaningful solution if it were to hit the market. While the Bluetooth LE solution for COVID has only one steep climb, applications like Ford’s have two: adopted by cyclists and by car manufacturers.