In the future, your plug-in hybrid may be able to read your mind -- and save you gas in the process.
Ford, which has been at the forefront among auto makers when it comes to integrating software applications into cars, is experimenting with an application that aims to leverage data amassed about your driving habits to increase the mileage of plug-in hybrids and standard hybrids.
Extending car mileage has become job number one at automakers now that the U.S. plans to raise the fleet vehicle average standard to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Today, Ford and Toyota said they would collaborate on hybrid technology for pickups and SUVs, as well as internet services. While the two companies mostly discussed large cars -- Ford is number one in trucks and Toyota is number one in hybrids -- software could become a more pervasive part of the relationship because it will become a crucial part of most new cars. (Emerging EV tech will play a prominent role at The Networked EV conference taking place October 20 in San Francisco.)
Code-named Green Zone, the software tries to anticipate where you plan to drive. Say it’s 8 a.m. on Tuesday. Your car knows that this is the second day in a five-day sequence in which you drive 23.5 miles to the same destination. The software crunches data about your driving habits, the topography of the drive, any details about traffic and time-to-destination, and information about how the car performs.
It then tries to maximize the power the car draws from the battery pack and minimize the work performed by the gas engine. When you get within a certain number of miles of your likely destination, you enter, from your car’s perspective, a “green zone.” After that, it might go fully electric.
Further, if you typically charge up after the morning drive and don’t leave again until 5:00 p.m., the car can try other methods to squeeze out a few extra miles on electricity.
“We have this massive amount of data. The question is what to do with it,” said Ryan McGee, technical expert on vehicle controls architecture and algorithm design at the company.
The car continually refreshes its data by interaction with cloud-computing services.
The probabilistic principles underlying the experiment are similar to predictive algorithms exploited by search engines. In fact, Ford uses Google’s predictive APIs. Ford also works with Microsoft on in-car telematics and, like GM, has developed its own applications that will let EV owners interact with their cars.
We don’t know if Green Zone will be part of the Ford-Toyota collaboration (we interviewed McGee last week and the Ford-Toyota deal was unfurled today), but it fits within the ambit of internet services discussed in the alliance.
Quite a bit of work remains. Right now, Green Zone is in the proof-of-concept stage. The software designers also have to figure out ways to readjust predictions in the face of surprises.
“At some point, your predictions will be wrong,” said McGee.
One can imagine the company will change the name, as 'Green Zone' also happens to be the name of the U.S. compound in Baghdad.
Nonetheless, it fits within other recent efforts to increase automotive intelligence. Google has convinced the state of Nevada to let it put robotic cars on the roads there. Nissan and other manufacturers have been experimenting with collision avoidance applications that effectively would take control of the car away from drivers in the event of an impending collision.