Ford wants the F-150 to be a “drone base station” for mobile deployment

Updated Jan 11, 2016

Ford F-150 Drone in bed

As we concluded with our 2016 Innovations Awards, no other technology more than drones in 2015 showed more potential to impact the way we do business. Komatsu has started a business around the aircraft that could prove revolutionary to its core business. Contractors are implementing them throughout their workflow, and just yesterday we reported on how Caterpillar is researching drones and how best to collect data using them.

And with all the applications folks in construction, transportation, search and rescue and other jobs that typically demand a pickup can come up with for these aircraft, it’s no wonder Ford is eager to find a way to better integrate the technology with the F-150.

The automaker has partnered with leading drone manufacturer DJI to issue a challenge to developers and drone enthusiasts to create software that would allow the F-150 to serve as a mobile base station for drones, allowing the truck to launch the aircraft with the touch of a button on the dash and communicate with them as they fly.

The Drone-To-Vehicle Challenge is offering $100,000 to the developer who comes up with a communications system that allows a drone to talk to the Ford SYNC information center in F-150s.

The primary goal of the competition is to supply the United Nations with a method of inspect hard-to-reach emergency zones, such as those hit by earthquakes or tsunamis, with a drone from the cab of an F-150.

Here’s how Ford says it would like the system to work:

In a disaster, an emergency response team would drive an F-150 as far as possible into an emergency zone caused by an earthquake or tsunami.

Using the Ford SYNC® 3 touch screen, the driver could identify a target area and launch a drone by accessing an app projected through Ford SYNC AppLink. The drone would follow a flight path over the zone, capturing video and creating a map of survivors with associated close-up pictures of each.

Using the driver’s smartphone, the F-150 would establish a real-time link between the drone, the truck and the cloud, so vehicle data can be shared. Data will be relayed to the drone so the driver can continue to a new destination, and the drone will catch up and dock with the truck.

Ford notes that though UN search and rescue is the primary objective of this challenge, the resulting software could eventually be used in agriculture, forestry, construction, bridge inspection and more.