Ford U.K. is researching the creation of a crowd-sourced virtual pothole map showing drivers in real-time on in-car displays where potholes are and how bad they are and suggesting alternative routes.
Ford says bad road surfaces contribute to more than a third of accidents every year, and its aim is to prevent costly car repairs.
Testing of the system begins later this year.
The work is timely. This winter is expected to set records as the worst ever in some parts of Europe, with freezing temperatures, ice and snow likely to lead to more cracked and potholed roads.
In the U.K., a pothole damage claim is received by local authorities every 17 minutes – with claims averaging £432 ($540), Ford says. In 2011, 20 million potholes were reported in Europe but only half were filled – at an estimated cost of more than €1.2 billion ($1.28 billion).
“A virtual-pothole map could highlight a new pothole the minute it appears and almost immediately warn other drivers that there is a hazard ahead,” says Uwe Hoffmann, a research engineer at Ford of Europe’s Advanced Chassis Control Technologies.
“Our cars already feature sensors that detect potholes, and now we are looking at taking this to the next level.”
Ford models including the Galaxy, Mondeo and S-Max in Europe and Fusion Sport and most Lincolns in the U.S. already use onboard sensors to power the automaker’s optional Continuously Controlled Damping with Pothole Mitigation technology, which detects and adjusts the suspension to help reduce potential damage. The upcoming ’18 Ford Expedition in the U.S. also will get the pothole-mitigation technology.
Ford tests new cars on a nightmarish 1.2-mile (1.9-km) road at Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium, which sports replicas of some of the world’s worst potholes. Its engineers are researching the use of cameras and embedded modems at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany.
Together, these technologies would gather detailed information on the potholes and beam it to the Cloud – where it can be made available to other drivers – in real time, Ford officials say.
Other research is looking at the use of an active suspension system designed to massively reduce the severity of bumps and rough road surfaces.