Ford Has a Better Idea for a "Smart Jacket" to Help Cyclists Keep Their Eyes on the Road

©. Ford

It's actually a pretty nice jacket with some useful features. But there's a problem.

The Ford Motor company recently announced that it is getting out of the car business and would only sell SUVs and pickups, which unfortunately have a tendency to kill pedestrians and cyclists at three times the rate of cars. This might seem like a problem, but Ford has a better idea for UK cyclists: put them in nice black “smart jackets” which help riders find their way, and “display their presence and intentions to others.” From the press release:

“At Ford, we want to help people – and goods – move more safely, confidently and freely around our cities,” said Tom Thompson, project lead for the Ford Smart Mobility team. “The smart jacket concept helps us to better understand how the different players that are a part of the urban mobility ecosystem – cyclists, cars, and pedestrians – can better co-exist through the application of smart technologies and how we can apply those learnings to future ideas.”

The jacket has turn signal lights on the sleeves, and little haptic vibrators connected to the rider’s smart phone that tells them where to go to avoid serious traffic problems.

“There is an immediate change in mindset once there is no longer any need to stop to consult navigation apps directly on your phone – or worry if you’re heading into a particularly busy or dangerous road junction,” said Thompson who helped to develop the jacket in his spare time.

smart turn signals in jacket

© Ford

It’s wonderful that the “passionate team of cyclists” working for Ford are so concerned about helping cyclists avoid busy or dangerous roads. The problem is that the real solution is to make those roads less dangerous. Ford notes that “during the morning peak, cycling is in fact the most popular mode of transport in the City of London.” Yet cyclists still have to share those busy and dangerous roads instead of having proper safe bike infrastructure.

The reason that we all are so skeptical of the motives behind these kinds of things is that we have seen it all before. We saw how helmets became the go-to answer to bike safety, even though the country (USA!) with the highest rate of helmet use also has the highest cyclist death rate. We call it “blaming the victim”; the police and the car people call it “sharing responsibility”.

Ford smart jacket

© Ford/ Smile! Cycling is fun!

Don’t get me wrong; it is a lovely jacket. This guy doesn't look too happy wearing it and that silly Devo helmet, but that is part of the deal with these things: take the fun out of cycling, make it seem dangerous, make your model look like he is going to war, not to work. Be sure to talk up "busy and dangerous roads," which is why you dress as if you are going to the Battle for Seattle.

But the jacket itself is understated, they did not go crazy on the hi-viz, it's not body armor, and getting directions without looking at a phone is really useful when you are travelling; I do it by having my phone talk to my hearables. I suspect that if it came from anyone but a car manufacturer, there would not be such a negative response.

smart jacket detail

© Ford

Nobody needs a "smart jacket" but they would sell a million of them on Kickstarter; we have shown many silly turn-signal equipped jackets. The developers are also doing useful stuff with it, like researching route planning that can deal with the “last mile” problem, which bikes can help solve.

This refers to the last-leg of a journey not only in the context of a personal commute but also around delivering goods and services in dense and congested urban environments. This leg is generally associated with higher cost and more complexity.

There are other things Ford could do that would make life even better for cyclists, and which is fully within their area of expertise. If those suggestions are too extreme, it would make a difference if Ford made its SUVs and pickup trucks as safe as cars, installed breathalyzer interlocks, and speed governors. Then we might take them seriously.