2009 Ford F-150 4x4
2009 Ford F-150 4×4; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Ford F-150

With all the news about the auto industry’s problems dominating the headlines, some recent innovations in product technology have passed by relatively unnoticed. One of the most interesting technologies I have seen lately is an integral part of Ford’s 2009 F-150 design: Ford calls it Work Solutions.

Work Solutions is four innovative technologies combined into a vehicle in-dash computer network. Powered by Microsoft Windows CE with Windows Auto (no Microsoft jokes, now!), the Work Solutions design enables high-speed Internet access in the vehicle. The Internet access will be available in the U.S. on the Sprint Mobile Broadband network, but unfortunately, talks in Canada between Ford and the mobile data providers are occurring at a slower pace, so don’t expect this feature in a Ford F150 in Canada until 2010 models. However, it sounds like the system will be able to be retrofitted to the 2009 models if desired.

So why would you want an Internet connection in your truck? Other than getting information or doing research, if you are using your truck commercially, you could use the system for displaying service information about the material or product you are working with, getting work orders for the next job from your dispatcher, keying in the work you have done for the customer, searching for parts, or even setting up invoicing. The system can enable the driver (while stopped of course) to perform any task that could be done on a home or regular business computer.

The vehicle onboard computer uses a 6.5-inch high resolution touch-screen for both display and inputs, two gigabytes of memory, a slot for secure digital memory cards, a USB port and a wireless keyboard and mouse. The system also works with Bluetooth enabled cell phones.

Another feature or the WorkX Solutions system is called “Crew Chief.” This is a web-based application that can be used by a fleet administrator to diagnose vehicle systems and maintenance requirements while the vehicle is on the road. In fleet applications, down-time can be minimized and vehicle reliability maximized by monitoring vehicles and performing maintenance when required.

Tool Link is the third application provided by the Work Solutions system. Tool Link doesn’t require web access, although with a little imagination it could be integrated into dispatch systems. Tool Link is a Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) asset tracking system. Working in partnership with Dewalt, Tool Link helps keep an inventory of tools or equipment in the truck box. Dewalt power tools will automatically come already equipped with RFID tags already built into the tool when you buy them. Additional tags are available through Dewalt for marking other tools. For example, it might be difficult to mark individual wrenches but you could tag the bag or tool box that contains the wrench set.

When the vehicle is started, all the RFID tags are read in a fraction of a second through two RFID antenna mounted in impact resistant housings inside the pickup box. The computer compares the information with pre-programmed inventory lists and notifies the driver if any tools are missing. Imagine, no more getting out to the job site only to find a critical tool missing, or losing one because you left it behind somewhere. With a little imagination, it could be possible to link tool inventory lists to the work order, so the tool list would be created to ensure you had the proper tools onboard for the job.

The final application is called Cable Lock. In partnership with MasterLock, this feature uses a strong 8-foot, 10-mm diameter cable to lock large pieces of equipment such as a table saw in the open truck box. The flexible cable can be woven around and through items and then secured with a cuff-style clasp.

Ford’s Work Solutions first appears on the F-150 and next on the Econoline van. These are work-related features in vehicles widely used for commercial work, but they are just the first ripples of a new wave of features that will be found on many vehicles. Internet access on the road enables everything from real time mapping to enabling my boys to do their school homework research on the road. They could probably even type up their reports and submit them online. Of course, they would probably prefer to play games!

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