Driving Data for Health Care in The Gambia

Ford teams with Riders for Health to provide smarter and more efficient medical services.

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At Ford, we're helping researchers and programmers better understand how cars, bikes and other modes of transportation can work together to create new mobility solutions that can help make people’s lives better, including ensuring that vital health care reaches communities that urgently need it.

In rural areas of The Gambia, a remote West African country surrounded by Senegal, people depend on Riders for Health to deliver the medical services they desperately need. Riders for Health is an award-winning, not-for-profit nongovernmental organization that manages a fleet of more than 1,700 vehicles, used exclusively for health care and other public services. The organization focuses its efforts in places where no widespread network of vehicle-maintenance facilities exist — including Liberia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya and Malawi. To date, Riders for Health has provided health care access to approximately 21.5 million people.

Before Riders for Health arrived in The Gambia, most women and children had little or no access to vaccines, medications or life-saving hospital care. And, with only a handful of health care professionals available, many lives were lost, primarily because of lack of access to basic transportation. The country also has limited infrastructure and an intense rainy season that results in the dirt roads being completely washed away. In many places the roads are so disintegrated that even The Gambian government is uncertain where they are. These conditions pose significant challenges for Riders for Health. To take on these challenges and better serve The Gambian people, the organization turned to Ford for ways to improve how they operate their vehicles.

After learning more than half of the group’s service vehicles are motorcycles, we decided to create a new sensor kit, Info Cycle, based on the Ford OpenXC™ data platform. These kits were designed to collect data such as wheel speed, acceleration and altitude from everyday commuter bicycles to provide insight into how alternate modes of transportation might best serve future urban mobility needs. We repurposed the Info Cycle technology and tweaked the devices design to fit the motorcycles – ultimately up-fitting 50 of their motorcycles with the new sensor kits. These kits collect the type of GPS data and mapping coordinates that now enable Riders for Health to provide smarter and more efficient medical services.

Since becoming the first automaker to begin testing fully autonomous vehicles inside Mcity, the University of Michigan’s simulate urban environment, Ford has made enormous strides in researching how these vehicles operate in hazardous conditions, such as snow and complete darkness. Over the next two years, we will have tripled our autonomous vehicle test fleet to 30 Fusion Hybrid sedans in 2017 and will have 90 by 2018. These sedans will be taking the roads in California, Arizona, and Michigan for extensive development and testing.

In addition to the extensive testing of these vehicles and intensive collaboration with outside partners, Ford is focusing on expanding its Silicon Valley presence by creating a dedicated campus in Palo Alto to ensure that these innovations will be made. The Ford Research and Innovation Center that was initially created in 2015 will have two new buildings and 150,000 square feet of work and lab space added, and the current Palo Alto staff of 130 people will be doubled by the end of 2017.

“Now, the same open innovation mentality behind OpenXC has inspired our team to create a sensor kit for bicycles and motorcycles to learn how other transportation options might best serve people in urban, suburban and rural areas, including improving their health.”