By Mark Kleis
Thursday, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 2:14 pm
 
Given the recent news that Ford's perceived quality had taken a hit largely over its infotainment system, we relished the opportunity to take a more in-depth look at what the Dearborn automaker is up to.

Ford invited us to Michigan to take part in multi-day tour that showed us just what the Blue Oval is working on - aside from the obvious business of building cars.

Syncing your body to your car?
While MyFord Touch has been getting all the attention, Ford has not forgotten about expanding Sync, a system co-developed with Microsoft that is essentially Bluetooth connectivity surrounded by advanced software and interfacing.

To much skepticism, Ford recently announced that it was looking into the possibility of adding health monitoring to vehicles through Sync. While it might seem like a stretch too far into the increasingly distracted driving, Ford has at least a few ideas that it believes will actually reduce distraction and danger thanks to Sync and medical devices.

For example, future seats might contain fully self-contained, wireless sensors that could monitor a passenger or driver's heart rate, constantly scanning for irregularities. If early signs of a heart attack or other cardiovascular problems are detected, the vehicle can automatically warn the occupants to seek medical advice rather than waiting for a potentially deadly automobile accident or an even more panicked driver when a passenger goes into late cardiovascular failure.

While the heart monitoring concept could pose significant value to some, particularly to the aging population (baby boomers are the largest demographic/age group in the world, meaning health-related functions will hold wide value in the market in the future), a much less expensive health and wellness technology Ford is working on is centered around blood sugar level monitoring for diabetics and hypoglycemic patients. Nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population is diabetic, a number expected to grow in the future.

Ford and WellDoc partnered to develop a blood glucose monitoring service that interfaces through the user's cell phone and Sync. The idea behind this partnership is to help diabetes patients monitor and be aware of their condition at all times, especially when entering a vehicle where fluctuating glucose levels could present a major risk.

(More after video)


In addition to the fairly time-intensive WellDoc system, Ford has also been testing a small Medtronic device worn by diabetics that continually measures blood glucose levels. Using Bluetooth, the system can transmit information directly to Sync, which could warn drivers of an unsafe condition.

Medical experts explained to us that current doctor-patient monitoring methods don't properly account for peaks and valleys in blood glucose levels, so in-vehicle monitoring and recording could provide valuable feedback to doctors. Ford even suggested that the system could help parents check their children's levels without having to stop or take their hands off of the wheel thanks to simple voice commands.

It's worth remembering that all of this tech is in the experimental stage for now and a few years off from possibly being available on a dealer lot near you, but this more thorough explanation did open our eyes to the possibility that Bluetooth might someday be for more than just cell phones and iPods in automobiles.

MyFord Touch - the good, the bad and the indifferent
We spent some time with Ford tech guru Alan Hall to get some insight on how the automaker is tackling the negative press surrounding its hyped but beleaguered MyFord Touch.

"[Ford has] planned from the beginning to be doing continual updates and upgrades before ever noticing problems, much like with Sync," Hall told us.

Early consumer clinics revealed that new buyers needed more training, so Ford launched the SyncMyRide.com website with 30 how-to videos and a place for users to leave feedback and directly interact with product experts and fellow consumers alike. Ford also dedicated options and added staff on its helpline to give consumers specialized assistance in a timely manner.

Further, the automaker took a page from Apple to offer free after-sale training at dealers. Consumers can buy their vehicle with MyFord Touch, take it home, try things out and then when they have time and questions, they can schedule a training session - Sync My Ride training - either at the dealer or in some cases at their home.

Ford admits that the new technology isn't without its faults, however.

"[We are] seeing both system performance and some user difficulty, but with each new product launch, the software has been updated and system performance-related complaints have gone down," Hall said. "Dealers are also upgrading older vehicles to the latest software continuously."

Hall defended accusations that MyFord Touch is inherently flawed by comparing the technology itself to other technologies as well as pointing out that 85 percent of owners report that the system is easy to use.

"I think you need to look at it like consumer electronics," he told us. "Apple is known for how intuitive its devices are, and yet they have hundreds of stores with gurus and they offer training sessions for their customers. Cell phones and computers are constantly being updated with new software, people are frequently needing help using those devices."

MyFord Touch, Hall says, isn't simply a fancy audio system.

"People are viewing MyFord Touch as just another vehicle feature, but in reality, the way it looks, feels and functions is more in line with an advanced piece of consumer electronics. So why not extend the same training and expectations?"