man on bike

Pedal Power

Engineers at the Ford Innovation and Research Center in Palo Alto, California, are at work on a project that may offer new insights into urban mobility.

Around the world, the dream of city life is putting people – and ideas – in motion. From emerging global metropolises to revitalized regional centers, cities have become living laboratories where new opportunities to live, work and play are born. But even as digital technologies allow nearly instant connections between urban dwellers, the infrastructure designed to move them from point A to point B, such as roads and public transit systems, is struggling to keep up with demand.

To cope with these challenges, city residents and planners increasingly see motor vehicles as only part of the transportation solution. This is certainly the case in the booming Bay Area in California, where a growing population of tech savvy commuters, from Silicon Valley to San Francisco, is setting aside four-wheeled transit for pedal power. For these space-strapped city dwellers, bicycles offer an appealing alternative to the daily grind of stop-and-go traffic. But two-wheeled transit presents its own challenges, for bicyclists and motorists alike. On increasingly crowded streets, can commuters of all kinds learn to share the road?

At the Ford Innovation and Research Center in Palo Alto, California, a group of engineers are at work on a project that may offer new insights into urban mobility. The Info Cycle project is gathering a wealth of data about how bicyclists are navigating Bay Area streets in order to develop new ideas for increasing roadside safety, reducing traffic congestion, and enhancing environmental impact. And they’re doing it while empowering commuters of all kinds to participate in the development of these solutions.

At the heart of the Info Cycle project is a two-part system, a device that holds sensors for collecting data from a bicycle and its environment and an application that collects and visualizes the data. To bridge these two elements, the team used OpenXC, an open source hardware and software platform that Ford introduced in 2013. OpenXC was originally created to allow developers access to a wide range of vehicle data, and the same concept was used for Info Cycle. The telematic sensoring device is attached to the bicycle and transmits data via Bluetooth to a smartphone, where it is available for analysis. When brought to scale, the project will include hundreds of devices collecting data from bicyclists in defined geographic areas, creating a map of conditions ranging from fluctuations in ambient light and temperature to average speeds and the most common times and locations of emergency stops.

For Ford, the data offers a new opportunity to understand how bicycles are sharing the road with its cars and trucks and how new forms of transportation might be positioned to serve future urban mobility needs. But beyond that, it’s a bold step toward a future where Ford vehicles participate in the urban environment in smarter, safer ways.