Ford, DJI and the United Nations Target Drone-to-Car Technology

Ford Motor Co. says it is teaming up with DJI to imagine a world in which vehicles and drones become more capable and efficient by working together. Thus, the companies have created a challenge to develop the software to make that possible.

Working with DJI, Ford is inviting innovators to participate in the DJI Developer Challenge: create drone-to-vehicle communications using Ford SYNC AppLink or OpenXC.

The goal is a surveying system for the United Nations Development Programme to inspect emergency zones inaccessible to even the most versatile vehicles, explains Ford. The technology could allow United Nations first responders at, for example, earthquakes or tsunamis to quickly deploy drones to survey and map hardest-hit areas – all from the cab of an F-150, the base station for the drone.

“Working with DJI and the United Nations, there is an opportunity to make a big difference with vehicles and drones working together for a common good,” comments Ken Washington, Ford’s vice president for research and advanced droneDevelopers are tasked with creating software that would allow an F-150 and a drone to communicate in real time. Ideally, the United Nations’ rapidly deployable surveying system 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, capture video and create 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 that 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.

More information can be found here. The challenge winner receives $100,000.


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