Ford tests geofencing to help cities enforce speed limits

  • June 6, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

Ford is testing connected vehicle technology using geofencing that could one day let cities do away with the need for speed limit signs completely.

Many cities and towns limit speeds around schools, hospitals and shopping areas. Seeing the signs, however, can depend on how visible they are, whether they are concealed by branches, or maybe surrounded by a cluster of other signs.

The test trial in Cologne, Germany, uses an all-electric Ford E-Transit. The technology could in future work with other Ford commercial and passenger vehicles.

As well as potentially making streets safer for other road users and pedestrians, Ford’s geofencing speed limit control system could help drivers avoid inadvertently incurring speeding fines and improve roadside appearances.

“Connected vehicle technology has the proven potential to help make every-day driving easier and safer to benefit everyone, not just the person behind the wheel,” said Michael Huynh, manager of city engagement for Ford in Europe. “Geofencing can ensure speeds are reduced where – and even when – necessary to help improve safety and create a more pleasant environment.”

In Europe, up to 29 per cent of road fatalities are pedestrians and cyclists. Setting up 30km/h zones is considered one of the key measures to reduce the risk to pedestrians in urban areas, as drivers have more time to react and the impact speed is lower.

Driver assistance technologies such as Ford’s intelligent speed assist and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go already help ensure drivers do not exceed speed limits. The geofencing system is potentially more flexible and effective than on-board systems, and could in future be applied to commercial and passenger vehicles.

Researchers are using two FordPro vehicles to analyse the impact of speed limiting in terms of improving traffic flow and reducing the risk of accidents. Testing with the all-electric Ford E-Transit vans extends to all 30km/h zones in the centre of Cologne, Germany, as well as in selected 50 and 30km/h zones elsewhere in the city.

The 12-month trial builds on other recent Ford research projects that endeavour to help improve road safety, including connected traffic light technology that could automatically go green to offer clearer routes for ambulances, fire engines and police vehicles, and the use of specific speakers inside the vehicle to alert drivers to the direction from which people and objects are approaching.

Ford’s local hazard information, introduced on Ford Puma in 2020, is also helping make roads safer. The connected technology, now on 500,000 Ford vehicles in Europe, alerted drivers to more than 35,000 broken down vehicles, both Ford and non-Ford, and warned drivers of more than 100,000 hazards ahead per month in Europe in 2021.

The trial is the result of a collaboration between the Ford city engagement team, city officials in Cologne and Aachen, and Ford software engineers in Palo Alto in the USA. Working with colleagues in Aachen, the Palo Alto engineers developed technology that connects the vehicle to the geofencing system for GPS tracking and data exchange.

The driver receives the information via the dashboard display cluster, with the speed limit flashing below the current speed. The vehicle automatically reduces speed in line with the geofenced zone. The driver can override the system and deactivate the speed limit control at any time.

In the future, the system could enable drivers to set their own geofencing zones at speeds as low as 20km/h, including at depots and private facilities. Speed limits could also be set dynamically, to take into account local hazards, temporary road works and the time of day.

The German Traffic Code has over 1000 types of road signs. In the UK, it is estimated that the number of road signs has doubled in the past two decades, to around 4.6 million in total, with the Department for Transport requesting local councils remove unnecessary and unsightly signs. Reducing the number of signs on the roads could go a long way towards decluttering cities, with drivers able to concentrate on the roads rather than keep watch for signs.

“Our drivers should benefit from the latest technical support, including geofencing-based assistant systems that enable them to keep to the speed limits and fully concentrate on the road,” said Bert Schröer, head of vehicle technology and mobility at AWB, a waste disposal company involved in the trial in Cologne.

The trial runs until March 2023 and is part of broader research initiatives putting pre-production and prototype Ford E-Transit vehicles to the test across various intensive real-world operating scenarios, including in the postal, municipal and utilities services, as well as last kilometre and grocery delivery sectors within France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and the UK.

Ford is also using geofencing technology to improve air quality in cities, ensuring the Ford Transit Custom plug-in hybrid electric vehicle runs automatically in zero-emission electric-drive mode whenever the vehicle enters a low‑emission zone.