Ford built this high-tech hub in New York to prove it’s more than a car company

Ford isn’t just a car company anymore. As a part of its effort to build a portfolio of products that empower smarter cities, the car-maker has opened its first FordHub in New York — a space that showcases its emphasis on being a “mobility” company as well as an automotive company.

“Business is moving from the traditional automotive to automotive and mobility, and we wanted to build a brand experience studio where we can connect with consumers and consumers who don’t own cars,” Andrew Birkic, global advanced consumer experience platforms manager, told Digital Trends. “As we migrate to a different business model — obviously we’re still with the core business — but it’s an opportunity to showcase our other products and so this is our first studio doing it.”

Located in the Oculus, the transportation hub near the World Trade Center in New York City, the FordHub offers a glimpse at the possibilities of a smarter city thanks to a union between technology and transportation.

For example, as you walk in it’s impossible to miss a large screen that displays commute information — such as departure times for trains at the Fulton Station, the Staten Island ferry, the PATH and the LIRR, as well as how many CITI bikes are left at a nearby docking station. All of this information is available via a plethora of online services and apps, but Ford’s display puts it all together in real-time.

In front of the display is another touch-interface that lets you choose a location, such as Chelsea Market. Tapping it pulls up a path from the FordHub to Chelsea Market on the larger, mounted display that also offers brief information about the history of the market.

fordhub nyc
This installation uses Lidar sensors and model cars to sense movement. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

In the middle of the space is a large racetrack-like model, where golf-sized balls rolled through. Birkic said it is meant to symbolize the many different layers of city transportation, from highways to the subway, as well as the flow of moving from one to the other.

Many of the things you can do at the FordHub are interactive. For example, you can also customize a Ford car via a tablet, and if you’re interested in the result, employees will put you in contact with local dealerships. There’s a virtual reality station that has you building a Mustang on top of the Empire State building with the HTC Vive; and you can also move through a city while playing an interactive game — a tool meant to demonstrate the things you could do during when you’re in a self-driving car.

One of the cooler installations is all the way at the back, and it involves approximately 5,412 model cars. Each are outfitted with an LED, and Birkic says the bottom of the installation features Lidar sensors — the same technology used by self-driving cars to detect obstacles on the road. Thanks to Lidar, the installation senses movement and changes the color of the cars to create various patterns.

Visitors can get a Ford Hub Card at the Hub, which is used to activate some interactions like the Lidar selfie installation — the code on the card can be used to find their “saved experiences” online.

It seems as though the FordHub will be open indefinitely, unlike Google’s recent pop-up that lasted three months. The next FordHub slated to launch is in San Francisco.

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