This post originally appeared in Business Insider.
Ford’s big news at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year was its connected bicycle experiment.
Yes: A car company, building a pushbike.
The plans center around two foldable bikes: the MoDe:Me, built in partnership with manufacturer Dahon, which is designed for urban commuters to zip through city traffic; and the MoDe:Pro, designed in-house, and intended for commercial use by delivery drivers, electricians, and so on.
Both work with a prototype iPhone 6 app called the MoDe:Link, which enables the bike to offer functions such as: vibrating navigation on the handlebars to let the rider know when to turn; “smart routing” which also builds in public transport information, weather, and charging station locations; a sensor that automatically fires up the electric pedal assistance when a rider’s heart rate reaches a certain level; and compatibility with Ford’s SYNC system when the e-bike is stowed in a car.
They’re neat products and you can immediately see how useful they would be for people who want to zip around the city in as little time as possible. But still: Why Ford?
Ford’s vice president of research and advanced engineering, Ken Washington, told Business Insider it builds into the company’s wider “Smart Mobility Plan,” launched at CES last month, which has seen the company commit to launching 25 experiments this year in the areas of connectivity, mobility, the customer experience, autonomous vehicles, and big data. He added that Ford is “no longer counting” how many experiments it is running but instead wants to spark a culture of innovation and experimentation within the company.
It’s a bit like Google’s famous “moon shots”—not all of these will become consumer products—but the initiative offers the company the chance to think about the idea of mobility beyond its day-to-day car-related business challenges.
The bike experiment isn’t just a novelty prototype: It’s also a way to collect data in a way Ford hasn’t done before, gathering research about how bikes are used in urban areas through a sensor box on the frame. A Ford representative on its Mobile World Congress stand told Business Insider he did not know of any other company—bicycle manufacturers or automakers—that are conducting this kind of experiment right now.