MEET Venkatesh Prasad, a technical expert with Ford, on what drives automobile design

K. Venkatesh Prasad, known as “Ford’s What Next Guy”, predictably talks about the amazing automotive possibilities that lie ahead. Sample these. A diabetic is getting hypoglycaemic and a device strapped to him issues a gentle alert which is then picked up by the car’s computing system and amplified. Warned, he eats a banana. Allergic to pollens, a passenger is warned by his car that an area ridden with pollen lies ahead and he takes a route that by-passes the danger zone.

In short, Prasad — who was on a short visit to Chennai — talks about cars knowing their owners as well as owners know their cars. Sooner or later, this will be a commonplace reality. It’s already found in certain forms. Group and senior technical leader, Vehicle Design and Infotronics, Ford Research and Innovation, Prasad made this statement in the context of Ford SYNC, a voice-activated system that integrates three components — the brought-in, the built-in and the beamed-in — through applications created by Ford and third-party developers.

Take a view of the vertical slice of the architecture of SYNC and related technologies, and you will notice three components — the built-in, the brought-in and the beamed-in, says Prasad. Built-in components such as microphone and loudspeakers are things not taken in and out of the car. In contrast, brought-in components such as an USB drive and a hand phone, are services and devices taken in and out of the car. Beamed-in components such Internet music, search services for points of interest or traffic info come from the cloud.

A seamless interplay between the three ensures ease of use and increases driver’s safety. For example, a driver calls out a command activating the mobile, which sends out a message to the cloud for a desired service. It could be anything, a traffic update or direction to a destination or music. The voice-activated SYNC system, offered in 14 Ford models and 5 Lincoln models, is an example of this interplay.

Connectivity between cars is the next level. He paints a hypothetical situation of five drivers on a road made treacherous by numerous hairpin bends. Four drivers are driving within a short distance of each other, and the fifth is many hairpin bends behind the rest. As a result of a cloudburst, the wiper blades in the cars of the four drivers get active and this action sets off an alarm reflected by the system in the fifth driver’s car. Prasad asks which is of greater use — a general weather update about the possibility of rain or a specific warning that a cloudburst has overtaken motorists just further away.

Prasad believes the faint roars of such highly interactive machines are already heard.