Ford Takes Multi-Modal Mobility to New Level with e-Bike Experiment
With the advent of the next-generation car services, as well as Millennials’ apparent distaste for driving and car ownership, automobile manufacturers are being forced to rethink century-old business models. Many of them are exploring car-sharing, public transportation, and, now, electric bikes.
This week, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Ford announced that it is expanding its Smart Mobility plan with a new prototype electric bicycle project, called Handle on Mobility, which will study how e-bikes can be used with cars and public transportation to deliver faster, easier commutes.
Bill Coughlin, president and CEO of Ford Global Technologies and one of Ford’s leaders on the e-bike project, said Handle on Mobility started with a competition between Ford employees.
“It dawned on me that if we’re getting into multi-modal transportation, we need more than cars, and bikes are a natural extension for us,” Coughlin said. “So we got permission to hold a contest for employees to design an electric bike. It was the very first innovation contest in the history of Ford Motors.”
More than 100 employees from around the globe submitted entries to the bike contest, and three winners were eventually chosen. “It was really tough to narrow down,” Coughlin said. “Usually, in an event like this, the winners get a bonus and then the manager says, ‘Back to work.’ This time, I said, ‘Let’s actually build these bikes and see what we learn, and maybe get into production with a bike OEM partner.’”
Ford met with Dahon, a Chinese-based company known for its fold-up bikes, to talk about a bike-manufacturing partnership. Dahon liked one design in particular, the MoDe:Me, because it was similar to its existing product line. The MoDe:Me is meant for the commuter who wants to, say, ride her bike from her parking spot to her office.
Easy to fold and stow, the MoDe:Me has a 200-watt motor with a 9-hour battery that provides electric pedal assistance for speeds of up to 25 km/h. It also has a rear-facing ultrasonic sensor able to warn a rider when a vehicle is approaching by vibrating the handle bars, while simultaneously flashing the bike’s lights to remind motorists to share the road.
The other two e-bike prototypes are being developed in-house by Ford. One is still under construction, and the other is the MoDe:Pro, intended to be used commercially by bike messengers, couriers, or anybody else who needs to get around for work in an urban setting. It has the same specs as the MoDe:Me, but with larger, “BMX-style wheels.” It can be stowed and charged inside Ford’s Transit Connect van.
Both bikes come with an app called MoDe:Link that enable hands-free, turn-by-turn navigation. The corresponding handle bar vibrates in the direction of the turn as the app triggers the appropriate turn signal automatically; it can also point out bike-friendly routes and potential hazards. MoDe:Link also offers real-time traffic, parking, and weather information.
“Lots of people would love to take their bikes to work, but they don’t want to shower,” Coughlin said. “So we also have a no-sweat mode that works with the heart beat of the rider.” Cyclists can set a maximum heart rate, and once that’s achieved, the electric motor kicks in to help with pedaling.
“When we started, most electric bikes were large, heavy, and expensive,” Coughlin said. “We wanted them to be lighter, cheaper, and able to work with Ford vehicles. The beauty of the app is that, when you’re starting your journey, it gives choices—you can bike the whole route or bike part of the way, find out how much it will cost, and when you’ll get there. We’re trying to be as flexible as possible.”
Coughlin said the reaction to Ford’s experimental bikes has so far been positive, and the company is in the process of deciding whether to mass-produce them.
“I hope we can go further, whether that’s manufacturing them ourselves or licensing them to someone else,” he added. “In my humble view, we want to lead in multi-modal transportation, and bikes will play a part in that—how much, I don’t know. But this experiment really showed promise.”
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