Ford deploys VR plus empathy to protect cyclists on the road
ford uses empathy and virtual reality (vr) to protect cyclists and keep roads safe

Ford deploys VR plus empathy to protect cyclists on the road

In European cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, infrastructure has long been in place to ensure that cyclists and drivers are kept apart, where possible.

However, large-scale changes to the way that cities are organised take time, money, and political will to implement. Car manufacturer Ford is hoping that a dose of VR-enabled empathy will help to keep cyclists safe in the interim.

Share The Road

Ford recently launched the Share The Road campaign aimed at, among other things, improving road safety. There are thought to be around 250 million cyclists in Europe, and they account for over eight percent of traffic accident fatalities.

As well as highlighting the environmental benefits of cycling, the intention behind Share The Road is to encourage harmony between drivers and cyclists. The idea is that both parties can adapt their behaviour to make roads safer for all.

Using VR to encourage empathy

Part of Ford’s campaign is a virtual reality experience, WheelSwap. The technology can be likened to a kind of immersive hazard perception test, and has been developed to give drivers and cyclists an insight into each other’s perspectives.

Ford hopes that exposing cyclists and motorists to the extremes of inconsiderate driving and riding will ultimately change the way they behave on the road.

First impressions are good: Initial studies show a willingness from nearly all participants to adapt their driving or cycling behaviour after undergoing the experience.

Over 1,200 people took part in the VR experiment across five European countries. Seventy percent of those displayed greater empathy to their driving and cycling counterparts after donning the VR headset. Ninety-one percent said the experience was responsible for a decision to change their road habits. Two weeks later, 60 percent said they believed they had done so.

How well that translates into the real world remains to be seen, but the intention is good.

“There is no more effective means of appreciating someone else’s point of view than stepping into their shoes, or in this case, onto their pedals. Empathy is an immensely powerful emotion,” said behavioural scientist Dan Berry, who helped devise the experiment.

Ford’s campaign has been backed by Sir David Brailsford, head of cycling powerhouse Team Sky. “This is a very timely initiative by Ford,” he said. “Europe is home to some of the world’s largest cycling communities and increased pressure on road space is raising safety ever higher up the agenda.

“This campaign is not just about introducing new technology, but also highlighting the need for equal respect and responsibility. If both cyclists and motorists took a little bit more time to understand each other’s needs, then we would quickly see a change in attitudes and behaviour which can ultimately improve road safety for everybody. Ford’s leadership role can play an important part in helping make that happen.”

Ford to integrate VR into its driver training program

After such positive results in the early stages, Ford has decided to add WheelSwap to its existing training programme for 17 to 24-year-olds, Driving Skills for Life. The free programme has been running since 2013 and offers hands-on classes that cover hazard recognition, vehicle handling, and speed and space management.

The WheelSwap experience will also be made available on YouTube for people to try – and learn from – in the comfort of their own homes.

Steven Armstrong, president and CEO of Ford Europe, Middle East & Africa, reinforced Ford’s vision of better integrating all road users. “As someone who frequently travels on both two and four wheels, I have experienced firsthand many of the frustrations – and dangers – that drivers and cyclists encounter on our roads today,” he said.

“The safe integration of increasingly diverse modes of transportation is key to how we make our cities safer and easier for everyone to get about in, now and in the future.”

Internet of Business says

A timely and clever initiative from one of the world’s biggest automakers. VR and AR technologies have been underused in training to date, but a number of initiatives are now putting this right, combined with other technologies, such as digital twins and wearable devices.