One good thing that came out of the pandemic is that more people started riding bikes. In the first three months of 2021, US consumer spending on bicycles and cycling accessories increased 34% year-on-year to $8.2 billion. However, the pandemic also saw more die and be injured while cycling. According to the National Security Council1,260 cyclists were killed in 2020, a 16 percent increase from 2019.
It’s a problem Ford believes the technology can address. On Monday, the automaker Announced is working with Commsignia, PSS, The Ohio State University, T-Mobile and Tome Software to explore how a smartphone app could warn drivers of pedestrians and bicyclists they may not see. As someone who shares the road with a car, you would install the company’s software on your phone. With the help of Bluetooth Low Energy, vehicles with Ford’s Sync infotainment system would see it as “beacons.” If the car determines that there is a possibility of a crash, it will warn the driver through audiovisual signals.
According to Ford, his approach has some advantages. One is that Bluetooth LE is almost ubiquitous. The technology has been part of the Bluetooth protocol since 2009, which means that all modern smartphones have access to it. If you own a Ford vehicle, you won’t need to take your car to a dealer for a hardware upgrade since the Sync system has Bluetooth compatibility. The other benefit 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 practice, the company’s approach is reminiscent of the COVID exposure notification apps that some countries and states put in place early in the pandemic. As you may remember, those also used Bluetooth LE. However, despite support from Apple and Google, they were never effective due to low usage. In Canada, for example, the federal COVID Alert app was only downloaded 6.9 million times and recorded 63,117 positive tests. Put another way, there aren’t enough Canadians downloading the software to make it an effective contact-tracing tool. The Ford app is likely to experience some of the same issues.
As an avid cyclist, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen riding their bikes at night without an LED light to make themselves visible to traffic. On the other hand, statistics suggest that motorists have been driving more aggressively in recent years, causing the aforementioned increase in deaths of cyclists and traffic accidents. Any sort of intervention would be welcome, but Ford’s app isn’t likely to be a meaningful solution if it ever makes it to market. While the Bluetooth LE solution for COVID only had one uphill climb, applications like Ford’s have two: adoption by cyclists and adoption by automakers.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission. All prices are correct at time of publication.