Ford is launching a platform called FordPass, which will debut in April 2016 as a pilot program in the US before expanding globally. Within that platform, there exists SYNC Connect the subject of this post.
While there are many features that go along with the FordPass, most will not be discussed herein. For example, partnerships involving parking reservations, ride sharing, 7-eleven, McDonald’s and a payment system are not being covered at all.
FordPass along with a Ford vehicle equipped with SYNC Connect gives the owner remote access to many of the vehicle’s features. This allows an owner to remotely find the vehicle, start the vehicle, read the fuel level, the oil pressure or the coolant temperature, and do a few other things.
SAE standards indicate that the same sensor information given by SYNC Connect is also provided through the OBD port. These SAE standards and the base technologies have been around and enacted in legislation since 1996, for all vehicles manufactured in the US for sale in the US, not just Ford vehicles.
During the past two decades, all vehicle manufacturers have increased the interconnectivity of their product’s components while at the same time restricting the public’s access to sensor data. That story is for another post, however it is worth noting that certain systems are no longer mechanical, for instance the steel cable running from the throttle plate to the accelerator pedal is gone and has been replaced with voltage readings, resistive elements and proprietary software.
In other words, Ford could provide all sensor data if they desired. Going even further, Ford could add a bidirectional component to SYNC Connect creating a scan tool used in the relearning of replacement parts. Bidirectional devices do exist, but are not cost effective for most homegrown situations and are not mainstream, even though they are necessary. SYNC Connect is a step in that direction.
Briefly let us live in a world where the automaker gives their consent to allow all sensor data from our vehicle to be accessed remotely in real time through a device that listens and talks to our vehicle. All sensor data includes voltages, angles, percentages, loads, phases and whatnot on power windows, o2 sensors, throttle bodies, fuel injectors, transfer cases and more. The GPS element of SYNC has the potential of adding environmental dimensions that the vehicle undergoes during operation.
For a single vehicle there exists a vast amount of data, all of which can be compared to a consumer’s expectations, factory specs, wiring diagrams and shop manuals. For the entire universe of that vehicle model there exist many vehicle scenarios, this gives a better understanding of the vehicle model by blending the experiences of many consumers, dealerships, mechanics and other stakeholders.
Automakers can use SYNC Connect type vehicle data to develop new products by looking at patterns in the current data, understanding those patterns and evolving to answer a consumer trend or need. Anomalies in the data are just as important as these may point to safety issues or even a new trend. Automotive recalls could be caught quicker and solutions could be introduced into a better product before a problem becomes epidemic. This plays well for generating customer loyalty, also saves litigation costs involved in class action lawsuits.
On the diagnostic side, isolating a bad circuit or module given a broad variety of symptoms can be time consuming, especially for a new model without a history. A data warehouse augmented with machine learning sidesteps that work. As more data from each vehicle model’s sensors populates the warehouse, sample sizes increase along with confidence levels while confidence intervals decrease.
Machine learning techniques can be further applied to data from other vehicle models with similar features. Precise diagnostics come from the largeness of the data; saving a mechanic time, and saving consumers money.
Connectivity such as SYNC Connect enhances a fleet of vehicles by monitoring sensor data in a central location thus allowing maintenance crews to prepare for and prioritize vehicle care. Shop crews can flatten out their workload to reduce fatigue and stress. For Hertz or Avis-Budget this is huge, each rental agency has around 500K vehicles in their fleet.
FordPass is an excellent way for Ford to position itself for consumer driven innovation, remote automotive diagnostics and remote repair.