Vehicles That Help Do Your Job

Cars have had computers for years. The fact that today’s vehicles get good fuel economy while emitting little exhaust is simply one example of the computer power of a modern automobile. Yet aside from some entertainment and navigation functions, drivers haven’t been able to tap into the vehicle’s computer power or even do rudimentary tasks like browse the Internet -- until now.

Ford Motor Co. has hurdled the competition with several industry-exclusive technologies that will help make business owners more productive and successful, and it points the way for applications that we will soon see in noncommercial cars and trucks.

The new effort, going under the heading “Ford Work Solutions,” starts with an in-dash computer developed with Magneti Marelli and powered by Microsoft Auto. The computer provides full high-speed Internet access via the Sprint mobile broadband network, Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calling and navigation by Garmin. It is the first broadband-capable factory-installed in-dash computer in a production vehicle. (What took it so long?) The system allows customers to print invoices, check inventories and access documents stored on their home or office computer networks right on the job site. Pretty much anything you can do in your office, you can now do in your Ford truck with the convenience of Internet access, various applications like word processing and spreadsheets, and a full-size wireless keyboard.

“Our truck customers are smart, and they work hard,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of The Americas. “Ford Work Solutions provides truck customers new technologies and tools to help them work even smarter and further boost their productivity.”

The in-vehicle computer might seem like a huge step forward -- and it is -- but that isn’t the whole story. If you’ve ever left a tool at a job site only to have it disappear, you will very much appreciate Tool Link, a radio-frequency-identification asset-tracking system. With Tool Link, you simply tag your tools (or sporting goods or kids’ toys) with embedded RFID-enabled labels, and you may never lose another hammer or power saw. This technology -- developed in partnership with DeWALT, a top maker of professional power tools, and ThingMagic, an expert on radio-frequency ID technology -- enables customers to maintain a detailed real-time inventory of their tools and equipment. If the tool is not in your truck as you prepare to depart the job site, the system will let you know. Unfortunately, it won’t find it for you … at least not yet. In another effort to help you keep your stuff, Ford Work Solutions also features a cable lock security system developed in partnership with Master Lock to discourage theft of expensive tools too large to fit inside the truck.

Finally, it’s not enough to simply manage your business and keep track of your stuff; you also have to manage your employees and keep track of them. Crew Chief provides the dynamic location and performance data fleet owners need to manage their vehicles more efficiently, quickly dispatch workers to job sites, monitor driver and driver performance for safety and economy, and keep detailed vehicle maintenance records. It was developed by Ford with market-leading telematics specialist Microlise, and it might tell you more about your employees’ behavior than you want to know.

Ford’s strategy in all this is clear: It wants to extend easy-to-use technology solutions to its customers, and it wants to do it in a way that adds value to its products. That’s something all business owners can appreciate.