Why haven't we done this yet?
Political news has been dominating feeds all around the US as of late, but anyone looking for a break from the turmoil has turned their attention to the Oroville Dam in Northern California, the tallest dam in the United States and one that’s been under threat of bursting due to a jam-packed reservoir and concrete-eroding age. In a sense, it has a lot in common with America’s crumbing infrastructure, something that Ford will be one of the first automakers to address with the latest crowd sourcing toy it's experimenting with.
What is actually just the latest manifestation of connected technology that shares data regarding road conditions among cars, something we’ve seen Volvo start to roll out, is what Ford is calling a “virtual pothole map.” Currently in its research and development phase, Ford’s map would use cameras and a modem mounted in the car to identify potholes and point them out to the driver so they can be avoided, or if bad enough, even suggests alternate routes. The data would also be shared to other Ford vehicles so that if they happen to drive into the area afterwards, their respective drivers would see the same alert. In addition, Ford is researching how to use active suspension systems in conjunction with these pothole detectors and alert warning systems.
Doing so could prime the suspension for the bump and would help lessen their severity. The research team is centered in Cologne, Germany and seems to be aiming the tech at Europeans, but we can easily see its usefulness here in the US where our crumbling infrastructure has been a political talking point. Ford’s justification is mainly a financial one, citing the fact that pothole repairs made to cars can easily top €500 ($533) and that winter is one of the months where damage is more likely. But the company also makes an appeal by claiming that bad road surfaces contribute to up to a third of accidents each year, although we were already sold on the system before hearing this based on the fact that it avoids frigging potholes.
Given that potholes are exactly the types of road conditions that autonomous vehicles tend to struggle with, it’s easy to see how Ford’s tech could be useful in developing a Blue Oval-branded self-driving car that we should be expecting by 2021. Tread cautiously.