Ford looks to space robots for help on connected cars

Automaker looks skyward to improve emergency response systems

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Ford this week announced that it will begin studying space robots to improve its own vehicle communications systems. In a press release published Wednesday, the American automaker said the research will be conducted under a three-year partnership with scientists at the St. Petersburg Polytechnic University in Russia. The idea is to gain a better understanding of how intergalactic robots communicate with each other and with the International Space Station, and to apply these principles to Ford's vehicle-to-vehicle and emergency response systems.

Of particular interest are so-called "mesh networks," which combine several communications systems under one umbrella. Ford says these networks are critical for cars to communicate with each other and infrastructure, and are particularly important in the case of an emergency or accident, which may damage or inhibit a car's onboard computer. By studying the way robots communicate when faced with a network outage, Ford hopes to implement stronger mesh networks that would allow a vehicle to maintain contact with the police or emergency services in a worst-case scenario.

"The research of fallback options and robust message networks is important," Oleg Gusikhin, technical leader in systems analytics at Ford, said in a statement. "If one network is down, alternatives need to be identified and strengthened to reliably propagate messages between networks."

The company is also looking to create an in-car system that would prioritize some messages (emergency alerts) over others, and is focusing on three space robots, in particular: the Eurobot Ground Prototype, NASA's Robonaut R2, and the Justin Humanoid, pictured above.

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