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Ford sets its sights on drone-to-vehicle technology

05 January 2016

Ford and DJI have announced a collaborative project to develop software that will make vehicles and drones work together for emergency relief.

The technology could allow United Nations first responders to deploy drones in an emergency, with a real-time link between the drone and the cab of a Ford F-150 vehicle (photo: Ford Motor Company)

Working with DJI - a specialist in professional-grade drone systems and software - Ford is inviting innovators to participate in the 'DJI Developer Challenge' to create drone-to-vehicle communications using Ford SYNC AppLink or OpenXC. The goal is a surveying system for the United Nations Development Program to inspect emergency zones inaccessible to even the most versatile vehicles.

The technology could allow United Nations first responders to earthquakes or tsunamis to quickly deploy drones able to survey and map hardest-hit areas – all from the cab of an F-150 vehicle.

Applications to the surveying system challenge can be made here. The challenge winner receives $100,000. 

The mobility challenge is part of Ford Smart Mobility, which the company says is designed to take it to the next level in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and data and analytics.

Developers are tasked with creating software that would allow a Ford F-150 and a drone to communicate in real time. The United Nations’ rapidly deployable surveying system ideally would work like this:

In a disaster, an emergency response team would drive an F-150 as far as possible into an emergency zone caused by an earthquake or tsunami.

Using the Ford SYNC 3 touch screen, the driver could identify a target area and launch a drone by accessing an app projected through Ford SYNC AppLink. The drone would follow a flight path over the zone, capturing video and creating a map of survivors with associated close-up pictures of each.

Using the driver’s smartphone, the F-150 would establish a real-time link between the drone, the truck and the cloud, so vehicle data can be shared. Data will be relayed to the drone so the driver can continue to a new destination, and the drone will catch up and dock with the truck.

Developers will be able to use vehicle data available through SYNC AppLink or the OpenXC platform to create a seamless drone-to-vehicle communications experience.

Though this challenge has a specific mission, the software eventually could allow drone-to-vehicle applications in agriculture, forestry, construction, bridge inspection, search and rescue, and many other work environments in which vehicles are space-, height- or terrain-limited.

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