LAWRENCE — Beginning in January 2013, a team of students and faculty from the KU Center for Design Research will collaborate with Ford Motor Company on new designs that might someday end up in Ford vehicles.
Under the direction of Greg Thomas, professor of design in the School of the Architecture, Design and Planning and director of the CDR, students in the University of Kansas' new Advanced Design Studies 560 class will have the opportunity to conceptualize new internal controls and interior layouts for Ford vehicles. The students will be given project parameters and objectives by Ford and will be in contact with a Ford engineer during the semester. Thomas will then present their designs to the company at the end of the term.
"This is a great opportunity for the Center for Design Research and for Ford," Thomas said. "Our faculty and students get the experience of working on a real-world project for one of the world's most innovative companies, and Ford gets to utilize the talent we have here at KU. This will be an incredibly productive project for both organizations, and from our standpoint, it'll be a heck of a lot of fun, too."
Thomas first approached Ford about a sponsored research project in 2011. After months of conversation, Ford invited Thomas and his students to submit a list of potential design concepts – one of which was a "smart" child seat that would enable drivers to monitor a child in a safer, less distracted way. Ford liked the concept and earlier this year asked Thomas and his students to further develop their design by the end of the spring semester. Thomas presented to Ford in June, and Ford liked what they saw.
"It was basically a tryout for us," Thomas said. "Ford liked what we did with the smart child seat idea, so they've agreed to move forward with a sponsored research project in 2013."
The collaboration is a good fit for Ford and the CDR, both of which are positioned to capitalize on national trends in health and wellness. Ford has emerged as an industry leader in researching on-the-go health and wellness technologies, primarily by leveraging its popular SYNC system and its ability to connect devices via Bluetooth, access cloud-based Internet services and control smartphone apps.
The Ford partnership is the third major corporate partnership for the CDR. Earlier this summer, Thomas announced collaborations with Bayer HealthCare on a portable glucose monitor and with Voice Assist on hands-free technology for drivers.
"The sky is the limit in terms of using wireless technology to enhance the health and well-being of individuals on the go," Thomas said. "In vehicles, for example, possibilities include customizable dashboards, smart lighting systems, facial recognition technology and even windshields that double as computer touch screens – a concept you might recall seeing in the latest 'Mission Impossible 'movie. We're getting to the point where a lot of the 'futuristic' car technologies you see in the movies aren't that far off in real life. It's exciting that the CDR and KU are involved in this type of work."
The CDR was launched in 2011 to foster interdisciplinary collaboration across KU in the area of smart technology and consumer products. The CDR has been especially focused on the areas of distracted driving and automobile safety, as well as wireless technologies that impact health and wellness.
The CDR is part of the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at KU.