From creating cars that communicate with each other, to helping kids write their own books, to improvising medical devices worthy of MacGyver, these six innovators promise to change the way we live
Author TOM SAMILJAN
The American auto industry has seen its share of challenges over the past quarter-century, but amid the upheaval Ford has managed to move into a leading spot in the race to integrate cars and technology. Heading up the charge is Paul Mascarenas, Ford’s chief technical officer since January 2011.
Although his title may be relatively new, Mascarenas has been with the company since 1982, when he started fresh out of college in the engine research group. “I spent my first few years at Ford working on the change from carburetors over to fuel injection, which was cutting-edge back then,” says Mascarenas. “Today, technology is helping us create high-quality vehicles that are smart, safe and green.”
Whereas some car manufacturers are only now beginning to roll out voice-activated in-car infotainment systems, Ford’s Sync system is entering its third generation. This means it not only is better at recognizing voice commands — to find everything from an address in the navigation system to a specific Beatles song on your iPhone — but also offers full integration with apps such as Pandora, Slacker and NPR, so you can quickly swap “All Things Considered” for a classic rock medley with just a few words.
“To make our cars smart, we’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to the consumer electronics industry,” Mascarenas says. Ford’s early collaboration with Microsoft on the Sync system turned out to be a prescient move, taking into account the shift from proprietary hardware-based solutions for in-car infotainment to open-source, easy-to-upgrade software solutions: mobile apps.
Ford is also working on a number of other innovations, from seatbelts that inflate into air bags to a heart-rate monitor built right into the car. The latter, which was demonstrated in the recent Evo cloud-connected concept car shown at Berlin’s IFA consumer electronics show, can send instant updates to your doctor wirelessly, as well as activate soothing music and lighting to calm you down and lower your heart rate.
Other forward-looking projects include closed Wi-Fi networks that allow cars in close proximity to “talk” to each other to prevent collisions and suggest speeds to their respective drivers that maximize traffic flow. “Our goal is to be not just a leading car company,” says Mascarenas, “but also a leading technology company.”
PAUL MASCARENAS / AGE 50 / FROM MILFORD, ENGLAND / LIVES IN BLOOMFIELD HILLS, MICH. / PREVIOUS GIG VICE PRESIDENT OF VEHICLE ENGINEERING, GLOBAL PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT, FORD MOTORS