Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford envisions an automotive future much like the transportation system in the futuristic 2002 science-fiction movie "Minority Report."
In that dystopian vision of a computerized world where people are arrested for "precrime" before they can commit a crime, the best thing going are the sleek cars that drive and park themselves. The hero-cop played by Tom Cruise has a futuristic Lexus that glides up the side of a high-rise building and parks itself on the wall outside his apartment.
Ford says as the world's population grows from the current 7 billion to 9 billion the number of vehicles will quadruple from 1 billion to 4 billion and motoring will look very different to avoid "global gridlock."
"We have to change the way we think of our cars," Ford, 54, great-grandson of automobile industry pioneer Henry Ford, told the 2012 Mobile World Congress technology show in Barcelona, Spain. "We tend to think of cars as independent, individual devices. Now we have to look at them the same way we look at laptops, earphones, tablets -- as pieces of a much richer network."
Ford predicts future cars will drive themselves in "platoons" of vehicles electronically linked for efficiency. "We will take increasing advantage of cars as a rolling collection of sensors, eliminating traffic accidents at intersections."
Don't laugh. The ground is already being broken for vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems that can avert accidents.
By mid-century, Ford says pedestrians, bicycles and cars will be linked together into a single connected network and vehicles will be able to navigate on their own.
"You'll be able to plot and reserve a parking space before your trip, and your car will park itself when you drop it off, maximizing parking density."
Science-fiction is becoming science-fact in the near-term with wireless V2X technology being developed to allow vehicles to communicate with traffic lights, and work and school zones.
Consumer Reports, in its annual auto issue, describes how smarter cars will even be able to detect traffic patterns at intersections and warn a driver -- or slam on the brakes -- if a car is about to be plowed into from the side.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland says V2X is "the next major safety breakthrough" and the federal agency estimates such a system could avoid or minimize 80 percent of accidents involving non-impaired drivers saving tens of thousands of lives.
In the mid-term 2017-25, Ford predicts the "auto-pilot" driving technology will allow a driver to take control if needed.
Beyond that it's anyone's guess.
,b>Obama courts big labor, praises American workers
President Barack Obama, who doesn't want anyone to forget his administration's contributions to saving the U.S. auto industry, courted UAW leaders in Washington last week.
"Take a minute to think about what you and the workers and families you represent have fought through," Obama told the United Auto Workers Convention in Washington Tuesday.
"Just a few years ago, nearly one in five autoworkers were handed a pink slip. Four-hundred-thousand jobs across this industry vanished the year before I took office. And as the financial crisis hit with full fury, America faced a hard and once unimaginable reality: two of the Big Three -- GM and Chrysler -- were on the brink of failure.
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