Ford shows off the future of cloud in the car

Ford's chief technical officer Paul Mascarenas took to the stage this morning at IFA in Berlin to outline his vision for the company's future as a technology company, and to demonstrate what he claims represents the future of the driving experience - powered by the cloud.

"We're here because we're more than just a car company," Mascarenas told the assembled hacks at the Ford press event at a messy Messe Berlin ahead of the official opening of the consumer electronics event tomorrow. "We're a technology company. We're looking to the consumer technology market to see where to go.

"We will deliver relevant and affordable technology to millions of customers around the globe," Mascarenas promised, shrugging off comments that Ford is overdoing the gadgets in its most recent vehicles and installing technology for technology's sake. "Ford owners won't be able to see themselves driving anything else," he said.

To outline exactly what he meant by that, Mascarenas narrated an artist's animation demonstrating the company's Evos concept vehicle ahead of its unveiling at the Frankfurt Motor Show later this month. While the 2012 Focus is certainly gadget-heavy, the Evos takes things to an entirely new level.

"It's cloud-connected," Mascarenas explained. "It's designed to offer a seamless lifestyle from the home, to the office, to the vehicle."

Mascarenas isn't joking: during the demo, he outlined an 'average' day for a lucky Evos owner, starting with the car communicating with the office computer systems to find out about a delayed meeting, checking the weather forecast and traffic reports, before reprogramming the driver's alarm clock to give him an extra hour in bed.

When the lazy theoretical driver finally deigns to rise, he starts streaming Internet radio across his home speaker system via his iPad - music which continues to play when he enters the car, with the Evos having spotted what he's doing and picking up seamlessly using the in-car entertainment system. As he drives off the EV inductive charging pad - as, naturally, the Evos is a plug-in hybrid - the car tells his house to go into energy-saving mode until his return.

The car continues to monitor things as the owner drives towards the office, spotting another delayed meeting and offering to remap the journey through a more scenic and less direct route. Social networking integration is also included, with users able to recommend exciting routes to their friends, who can then choose to try them out for themselves with a simple affirmative voice command.

Where things take a Knight Rider-esque turn is when the notional driver opts to take a dangerous route down a mountain switchback: his increased grip on the wheel and elevated heart rate - monitored through a sensor embedded in the seat - causes the car to go into 'no distraction' mode, switching the Bluetooth-connected smartphone into 'do not disturb' and removing everything except the rev counter and speedometer from the virtual instrument panel. The audio system even uses historical data to switch to rock music above a certain BPM, having noticed the driver's preference for such material during similar driving.

Entering the city, the Evos detects stop-start traffic and offers - verbally, naturally - to take over control of the throttle and brake to maintain a safe distance from the car in front, narrating the driver's emails and text messages to keep him amused in his new no-brain role of steering wheel warmer. Detecting increased levels of pollution, the Evos even re-routes automatically to find the cleanest path to the office.

Finally, the Evos radios ahead and reserves a parking spot with integrated EV inductive charging panel, ensuring that the car's battery is fully topped up by the time the driver leaves the office - and helping the driver find his exact space with turn-by-turn directions even after he enters the car park.

The vision espoused by Mascarenas and Ford seems, on the surface, to be science-fiction: add in a glowing red chaser light on the front and a bullet-proof paint job, and they'd have developed KITT. While some of the technology demonstrated - such as the car-connected context-sensitive alarm clock, and a radio chip which allows for the use of 'EV Only' lanes when in electric mode - will require industry cooperation, the remainder of the technology demonstrated seems perfectly believable.

In particular, the use of cloud-based data stores which - in slightly worrying Big Brother style - have a list of a user's driving styles, historical skill levels, musical preferences, schedule, and preferred routes - could make Ford's future vehicles something very special indeed. A car which knows you inside out, adjusting the temperature, seat height, audio system settings, and even responsiveness to your precise requirements?

Perhaps there's a future in this cloud mullarky after all.