Ford aims for drone-to-vehicle tech to tackle emergency situations

by Autocar Pro News Desk , 05 Jan 2016


Ford and DJI are imagining a world in which vehicles and drones become more capable and efficient working together, and are announcing a challenge to develop the software to make that possible.

DJI, manufacturer of professional-grade drone systems and software, Ford has invited innovators to participate in the DJI Developer Challenge to create drone-to-vehicle communications using Ford Sync AppLink or OpenXC. The goal of the project is to develop a surveying system for the United Nations Development Program to inspect emergency zones inaccessible to even the most versatile vehicles.

The technology could allow United Nations first responders to earthquakes or tsunamis to quickly deploy drones able to survey and map hardest-hit areas from the cab of an F-150.

Ken Washington, Ford VP, research and advanced engineering said, “Working with DJI and the United Nations, there is an opportunity to make a big difference with vehicles and drones working together for a common good.”

The DJI challenge winner also receives US$ 100,000 (Rs 64 lakh).

Ford F-150 to serve as drone base station
Developers are tasked with creating software that would allow an F-150 pick-up and a drone to communicate in real time. The United Nations’ rapidly deployable surveying system ideally would work like this:

In a disaster, an emergency response team would drive an F-150 as far as possible into an emergency zone caused by an earthquake or tsunami.

Using the Ford Sync 3 touch screen, the driver could identify a target area and launch a drone by accessing an app projected through Sync AppLink. The drone would follow a flight path over the zone, capturing video and creating a map of survivors with associated close-up pictures of each.

Using the driver’s smartphone, the pick-up would establish a real-time link between the drone, the truck and the cloud, so vehicle data can be shared. Data will be relayed to the drone so the driver can continue to a new destination, and the drone will catch up and dock with the truck.

The carmaker says that the software could eventually allow drone-to-vehicle applications in agriculture, forestry, construction, bridge inspection, search and rescue, and many other work environments in which vehicles are space-, height- or terrain-limited.

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