Ford adds GPS-enhanced 911 location awareness to its Sync system

Ford’s Sync system is a fantastic application suite capable of a seemingly endless amount of functions. The system currently provides navigation, traffic info, voice commands, Internet radio, and a 911 Assist mode that automatically dials 911 in case of an accident and provides emergency dispatchers with an approximate location from the connected phone’s GPS or through signal triangulation. That’s the old 911 Assist, though. Most of the 2011 Ford and Lincoln models take safety up level.

The new and improved 911 Assist mode improves the accuracy thanks to a dedicated onboard GPS module. Even with the new capabilities, the whole Sync system remains subscription free. You just need to provide the Bluetooth cell phone.

DEARBORN, Mich., June 3, 2010 – As thousands of emergency communication professionals gather in Indianapolis June 5-10 for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) 2010 conference, Ford is announcing new capability for the SYNC 911 Assist™ application: the communication of a vehicle’s exact location using GPS coordinates provided to emergency responders.

The nonsubscription-based app remains available to customers at no additional cost; providing emergency operators access to GPS coordinates of a vehicle, another important tool that could help first responders reach the scene of an accident faster.

“Ford is committed to continuously enhancing the owner experience, and SYNC is a key part of that strategy,” said Doug VanDagens, director, Ford Connected Services. “SYNC 911 Assist is free for the life of the vehicle, and now we’re making it perform even better. That adds unexpected value and peace of mind for the customer.”

Available with certain 2011 model year vehicles, the GPS coordinates are generated by the vehicle’s onboard GPS receiver for maximum accuracy.
“SYNC 911 Assist calls already come in on priority emergency lines, due to the call being placed from the customer’s personal cell phone versus an intermediary call center,” said Dave Hatton, global product leader/electrical engineer with Ford Connected Services. “Currently, 911 Assist is designed to provide location information to emergency service providers through assisted GPS or signal triangulation – the same system providers rely on when dispatching help to mobile phone user emergency calls.

“The new system is designed to provide coordinates through the onboard GPS receiver in addition to assisted GPS, which adds an even greater level of location accuracy.”

Unlike competitive offerings that require customers to subscribe and pay a monthly fee for such accident assistance, Ford 911 Assist remains a nonsubscription-based, no-cost feature of the SYNC system that uses a customer’s existing mobile phone. The fee-free service is available in both the U.S. and Canada.

When the feature is turned on and a phone is Bluetooth-paired to SYNC, 911 Assist can make a call directly to a local emergency operator in the event of an accident involving the activation of an airbag or emergency fuel pump shutoff. With the GPS capabilities, the system is designed to not only alert the operator that a crash has occurred in a Ford vehicle, but to give the operator the option to retrieve the vehicle’s GPS coordinates.

The call is fast, direct, and doesn’t involve a separate call center or intermediary.

“Integrated GPS is a logical next step for 911 Assist, leveraging the GPS hardware that is now included with SYNC,” said Gary Jablonski, manager for the Ford Infotainment Product Development Team. “That’s the beauty of the SYNC platform – it can quickly adapt to and accommodate new technologies, features and services that provide great value to customers without great additional costs.”

The wireless world
The 911 Assist with GPS update comes as telecoms in both the U.S. and Canada continue to improve their respective capabilities, allowing emergency operators to receive not only a caller’s wireless phone number, but the caller’s location information as well. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 in the U.S. each year. One third of those are wireless calls; in many communities, that number is one half or more.

“911 Assist with GPS can be useful for those calls where location information is still not available, or if the operator wants to double-check for accuracy,” added Hatton.

Keeping a pulse on the needs of customers as well as the emergency services community, Ford continues to work with nonprofit agencies such as NENA and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International as it develops other potential enhancements to 911 Assist.

911 Assist with GPS will be available on most SYNC-equipped 2011 vehicles, including the Ford Taurus, Focus, Flex, Fusion, Escape and F-150; as well as the Lincoln MKS, MKZ and MKT.

Vehicles featuring the new MyFord or MyLincoln Touch™ driver connect technology will also have the updated 911 Assist GPS capabilities, and offer customers a number of other emergency service options. A priority emergency screen, for example, will contain location information and quick-touch access to In Case of Emergency (ICE) contacts at the completion of a 911 Assist call.