This week I have been at Ford’s Trend event in Dearborn and after a great trip to the Henry Ford Museum (see my photos on Flickr) today has about trends effecting the automotive industry. Lots of interesting discussions and a very special guest in the form of Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford (Great Grandson of Henry Ford) started the day talking about how the automotive industry was once a disruptive industry and how until 2006 the industry (or Ford in this case) has lost the pace of innovation. He talked about how Ford are now using technology to push forward in car design including new fuel technology and maximising the efficiency of current fuel tech. He also talked about how vehicle to vehicle communication are going to be enablers to provide mobility in crowed cites. The path to self-driving cars starts with vehicle to vehicle communications with cars linked to city networks. There is a lot of invitation going on to with tech companies in creating smart vehicles. He talked about how design used to be just about the exterior and internal of the car but now it’s about incorporating technology in the car with apps and smart seniors monitoring thing like driver health. He talked about partnerships with technology companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple plus small startups who are innovating and how they can be using within the automotive industry.

There was a session called Geentopia which talked about Green Technology which is not one of the areas I focus on but was interesting especial that alternative fuel tech could bring us a reduced dependency on fossil fuels and the problems that causes. The speaker Any Hoffman said we are In the middle of a market shift, environmental issues are business issues. We are in Anthropocene era, we are changing our environmental in ways we have never done before.
The 2nd session was about designing the future, an interesting panel including author Seth Godin, Jay Ward from Pixar Studios and J Mays VP of design at Ford. The theme was design is the story. “We can no longer say form follow function” and designers are in the business of telling stories and customer will tell your story if you are successful. There were lots of references to Apple and its design philosophies. Jay Ward talked about Pixars design process in which it’s a collaborative process.
The best session was called “Disrupting The Drive” which Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was on the panel along with Jim Buczkowski from Ford and moderated by CNET’s Molly Wood. The focus of the session was how technology is changing the driving experience. As well as in car technology for entertainment and navigation like Ford Sync there will be technology that could assist with driving the car or picking a route based on pollution, traffic and where the best place to park and charge is. Steve Wozniak is a great speaker and his passion for engineering really comes across, it’s not technology for technology’s sake it’s about solving problems of now and in the future. Steve also talked about how he got into building computers and his love of maths. I will have some video of Steve posted in a couple of days.

I also spent some time in Ford’s R&D facility, Ford have a fantastic simulator for testing human interface design. The simulator is a real SUV in a hydraulically controlled pod with 360 degree views so that the driver is total immersed in the simulator and they use it for testing systems like automated cruise control and systems that monitor if you’re falling asleep. They can easily test warning systems and automatic controls without any risk. It’s an impressive setup and I have video of that which I will post soon.

Ford make extensive use of 3D printing for prototyping parts. They could print a complete front grill of a car in around 24 hours or an hour for a small part. They have a whole room full of 3D printer, they even had a full size car that was around 70% printed from a 3D printer (including all the bodywork). It means they can rapidly prototype parts including very complex parts. 3D printing is a very interesting technology and something we are going to see more and more of.

An interesting day and it was great to see things like the simulator and 3D printing but it was a real highlight to see Steve Wozniak and his infectious passion for technology solutions.

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