Flying Time

Ford E-bikes For Connected Urban Commutes

Last week I wrote about Toyota’s i-Road, an electric three-wheel vehicle that’s a cross between an automobile and a motorcycle. The company believes it is one of the possible solutions for those traveling short distances in cities to help reduce growing traffic congestion and reduce harmful emissions.

However, Toyota isn’t the only auto manufacturer looking to extend its footprint beyond cars to help solve overly long commutes that are causing severe economic and social impact on cities.

Ford Motor Co., as part of its Smart Mobility Plan announced at January’s Consumer Electronic Show, detailed an experiment called Handle on Mobility at last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. In the spotlight were two prototype foldable electric bicycles (e-bikes), one named MoDe:Me for personal commuting, the other MoDe:Pro for commercial users.

Dipping a toe into the e-bike water might seem counterintuitive for the Dearborn company. Ken Washington, vice president, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, explained it this way: “There are so many ways to get around a city, but what is really needed is a way to connect all of these transport options together.

“Being able to seamlessly move between cars, buses, trains and e-bikes and react to changing traffic situations can make a big difference both for commuters and for those delivering goods, services and healthcare.”

As more cities become concerned about pollution, with some governments already denying access by car into the center of towns, the future for e-bikes looks promising. The question is, can Ford, or any auto manufacturer for that matter, be the leader of an e-bike evolution?

App-centered E-bikes

The Mobile World Congress, with its focus on smartphones and wearable, seems an odd venue to introduce the two e-bikes, but they are designed to work in concert with both.

The result of an internal design competition at Ford, both the MoDe:Me and MoDe:Pro are equipped with a 200-watt motor and a 9-amp-hour battery that provides electric pedal assist for speeds of up to 15 mph — sufficient but not exactly optimum for city biking. Depending on terrain, the battery has enough energy for an hour and a half of continuous use.

Borrowing automotive safety tech, the bikes feature rear-facing ultrasonic sensors that both alerts the cyclist when a vehicle is closing in by vibrating the handlebars, and alerts motorists to the presence of the e-bike by lighting up the handlebars. The horn has two tones: one mild one for pedestrians, and a louder one for traffic. A headlight improves visibility, and a strobe mode can be used for emergencies.

Folding electric bikes aren’t new, but what sets these two apart is connectivity. Both work with a prototype app called MoDe:Link compatible with the iPhone 6. After the cyclist inputs a destination, the app lists possible routes and then provides step-by-step or turn-by-turn navigation. Handlebar grip vibrations let the rider know when to turn, and turn signals are triggered automatically for safety.

MoDe:Link can plan an entire route for commuters, including folding up their bike and using public transportation when necessary, and then completing the trip by e-bike. Along the way it can identify bike-friendly roads, hazards and alerts. Paired with a heart-rate sensor, the electric motor assist can be adjusted to provide a little extra help when your heart rate reaches a certain level.

Ford has shown off e-bikes before — the Ford Super Cruiser by Pedego — but hasn’t said when, or even if the MoDe prototypes will turn into consumer versions. The automaker will likely collect data from the bikes as part of its Smart Mobility Project to determine how bikes can contribute to cleaner, greener, integrated and smart urban mobility.

In the meantime, frustrated commuters around the world are anxiously waiting for the results.

Would You Buy A MoDe?

Assuming that the price of a Ford MoDe was somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000, would you buy one? Or, if commuting in the rain on a bike isn’t your cup of tea, how about the enclosed Toyota i-Road if it had a price tag of less than $5,000?

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