Ford is expanding City One challenges to three new cities

The City One challenge allows Ford to work with city leaders and citizens to help with mobility pain points.

Ford is expanding City One challenges to three new cities The City One challenge allows Ford to work with city leaders and citizens to help with mobility pain points.

At SXSW 2019, TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox spoke with Brett Wheatley, vice president of mobility marketing and growth at Ford Motor Co. to discuss Ford's expanding City One challenges, soon to include an international city. Wheatley also talked about what was accomplished in the three initial City One communities. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Teena Maddox: Tell me about the news that Ford mobility announced at SXSW.

Brett Wheatley: Today we announced the City One challenges expanding for Ford. We did three challenges in 2018, in Grand Rapids [Michigan], Miami, and Pittsburgh. And based on the success of those city challenges, we're now expanding to some new cities: Austin, Texas; Indianapolis, and Detroit. Soon, we'll be announcing an international city. So it's a big day for us at Ford.

Teena Maddox: Now, what will these challenges encompass?

Brett Wheatley: What we do with the challenges, is, we get right with the residents. We go into each of the cities, and we start talking to the individual residents, some of the city leaders. We say, "What are the pain points that you have, as far as mobility goes in this city, and how can we help you come with some solutions?"

What's really exciting is that we bring the tech community together. We bring startups together, and all the residents. We've come up with some really interesting things in the three cities we've been in so far, and we can't wait to see what we come out with in the next three cities.

Teena Maddox: Tell me about what benefits the cities get.

Brett Wheatley: Well, the cities will benefit with... they'll come up with some great ideas. What we've found in the three cities we've worked in so far [is] you've got great ideas that may come from startups, who just don't have the funds to actually blowout their ideas. We can help them take their idea, expand it, and work with our tech partners.

Last year, we had Dell Technologies, Microsoft, and AT&T. They'll help us refine those ideas, and then we'll give $100,000 to the winners in each of those cities, to, again, really bring their ideas to life, whether it's an app, whether it's a mobility solution working with transport agencies, whatever it might be.

Teena Maddox: All right, and when will this start with each city?

Brett Wheatley: The first city we're going to kick off with is Indianapolis. We'll be doing that in the next couple weeks, and then we'll follow shortly, with Austin, and Detroit, and then again, an international city — that'll be announced probably in a few months.

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Teena Maddox: Tell me, Brett, about how some of the winners of the challenge used the funds last year.

Brett Wheatley: Well, I'll share a really interesting example that came out of the challenges, by a gentleman named Saravana Pat Bhava. He had a real-life story that helped him develop an app. He went into school to pick up his child. Someone got in, and he drove away. [He] started to drive away from the school, [but] looked in the backseat, and found out that it wasn't his child, so, a very, very scary example. [He] just pointed out that it was a real pain point that he had, and thought that many other parents would probably have, too.

He had an idea to develop an app that based on geofencing. So when your car comes up to the school, the school would know you're there, and would release the appropriate student, your own child. And it actually is going to help reduce a lot of the traffic congestion, at the curb of the school — which in his case — many times he'd wait for 30 minutes at the curb, so a great idea he brought to us. We worked with our technology partners, helped them build out that app. So that's one of the real success stories coming out of the city challenges.

Teena Maddox: Okay, and how does the City One challenge benefit Ford?

Brett Wheatley: The neat thing about the city challenges and how they benefit Ford, is, we go into a city and we help them solve some immediate concerns. That's a benefit for the city, and it's a benefit for us. But we also want to develop a relationship with that city for the long term. So, if you think about the city challenge in Miami, we started off with a challenge. We developed such a strong relationship with the city, and with the community, we've announced it will be one of our beachhead cities for autonomous vehicles. So not every challenge city will be getting autonomous vehicles, but we hope to form a long-term relationship. We can help them solve their long-term mobility problems.

Teena Maddox: All right, Brett. So can you tell me about other technology Ford is using with mobility?

Brett Wheatley: Well, one of the technologies we announced recently at CES in Las Vegas is C-V2X. That's basically cellular vehicle-to-everything. The interesting thing about this technology is that it allows the vehicles to talk to each other, talk to the infrastructure, and actually read what's going on with pedestrians. It's a technology we'll start rolling out on our vehicles by 2022.

When we were in Vegas we created a scenario where it was a four-way stop. All the vehicles had C-V2X technology, and we had a motorcycle with C-V2X technology, and we actually had a pedestrian with a cell phone. Imagine driving up to a four-way stop: it's always a little bit awkward, because you don't know if the car on the right, or to the left, is the one that's supposed to go first. This would basically give you signals in each of the vehicles, saying who should go first. That's going to reduce congestion, and make sure there is a very orderly procedure at the intersections.

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It's also going to warn you if there's a pedestrian, maybe crossing at a crosswalk; you didn't see them. Or maybe even crossing the street, when you didn't anticipate it, [it will] give you a warning in your car so you can take the corrective action. So it's going to be a great technology; we're very excited to be leading the way at Ford with that technology.

Teena Maddox: All right, Brett. So what does this mean for the future of Ford vehicles?

Brett Wheatley: C-V2X is just going to make the operation of our autonomous vehicles even stronger. Everyone is excited about autonomous vehicles, and this technology will really be at the forefront of making it a fantastic operation.

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By Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...