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The Next Old Thing

Illustration Spur Design

Corbis (Ford)

Corbis (Ford)

The Technology: Smart Cars
The Product: Ford’s V2V
The Forebear: Henry Ford

Legend has it that when Henry Ford was asked why he didn’t talk to the public when developing his cars, he replied, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Understandably, perhaps, the automaker never addressed the question of what cars would ask for if they could talk.

Now, however, thanks in part to new technology coming out of the company Ford founded, we are reaching a point in automotive history when cars are becoming much more chatty. Within a few years, we are told, every car Ford produces will include vehicle-to-vehicle—or V2V—technology, an onboard Wi-Fi network allowing cars to communicate with each other.

The Wi-Fi has a range of about 820 feet and puts out a call that IDs position, course and speed 10 times per second. When V2V-equipped vehicles are headed for a collision, they essentially say, “Hey, buddy! We’re headed for a collision!” and take evasive action. To prevent a scenario in which one of the vehicles says, for example, “stop” in French and is thus not understood, Ford is working with manufacturers around the world to make the technology universal.

As fun as all this may sound, not everyone loves the idea. Some, for instance, fear that cars’ private conversations could be eavesdropped on. “There are concerns that governments or corporations could use V2V to track tax usage or monitor speeds for remote tickets,” says Michael Shulman, a technical leader for Ford Research and Innovation. “But the technology is based on anonymous IDs to avoid all of that.”

At the moment, there’s no update on the technology that would enable cars to squabble over parking spaces.

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