Ford wants to get into the business of helping drivers rate their skills. An onboard plug-in module plus a smartphone apps gives you a “personal driving score.” Ford likens its Driver Behavior Project, part of Ford’s bigger Smart Mobility push, to a fitness app that tracks how many calories you burn or how long you’ve exercised. Right now it’s a trial program in London, but it could expand. Ford says it provides feedback that helps drivers self-improve and a ratings score score that enables them to qualify for cheaper car rentals or lower insurance rates.
That assumes Ford’s drivers are good drivers, or the app convinces them to mend their wicked ways on the highway. Otherwise, their insurance and rental rates won’t go down. The way it works now with insurance company tracking modules is that there is a chance to reduce rates with good driving behavior, but also the possibility of higher rates if you have a so-so rating. Drivers have some concerns that in the future insurers might push for higher rates for those who opt not to have driver tracking. Big Brother and all.
Ford, working with the University of Nottingham, recruited 43 Ford Fiesta drivers in the London area. A plug-in device captured their driving habits such as acceleration, braking, pedal pressure, steering wheel angle, and steering micro-movements, as well as time of day and location. In addition, the subjects were tested inside a simulator, where a 360-degree landscape was projected onto a half-dome; like an aircraft simulator, this one could vibrate, tip, or tilt to emulate the car’s reaction to steering and braking. There are both normal and stressful driving situations. Sensors record driver eye movement, heart rate, and brain waves.
The project covered 160,000 km (100,000 miles) and 4,000 hours of driving. Ford also worked with data experts Transport API for analysis and insights for vehicle-specific data and with design company IDEO to research what drivers “think, feel, and do when behind the wheel [which] showed a significant difference between how people think they drive, and how they actually drive.” One insight was that when drivers were asked if they wanted to be rated as 10 out of 10 on a scale of their own choosing, many said that 8/10 would be good enough.Perhaps in their minds, getting a perfect 10 might mean no spirited driving at all.
A smartphone app rates the drivers’ behavior over the course of each day and assigns a rating for each day, plus a graph showing their performance over time. Ford found a driver’s score tended to vary from day to day, often in response to traffic conditions and routes driven.
The driver’s long-term score (collected over weeks or months) provides the opportunity to reward the driver with more favorable rates on insurance, or possibly lower rates on rental cars or car-sharing programs, such as Ford’s Go Ride project.
What Ford is doing parallels the driver trackers such as Progressive Snapshot from Progressive Insurance. Both use a module that plugs into the OBD-II (onboard diagnostics) connector and both track driver behavior. Ford’s work is currently a research project that delves deeper into the fundamentals of behavior (no brain-wave scanning headbands at Progressive). Both aim to improve your driving, and Progressive to do so through the carrot-and-stick of insurance rates as well as an insistent beep if you brake too hard. The Snapshot monitor also deducts for driving at unsafe late night or early morning hours. Like the Ford experiment, it also tracks location, but doesn’t use that in calculating rates — in part because it gets into the touchy issue of whether geo-tracking is a form of redlining with its racial overtones.
Ford was demonstrating the Smart Behavior Project this week at London Technology Week.