Ford launches 'Power-Up' wireless software updates, offers upgraded Amazon Alexa

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. on Thursday announced a forthcoming wave of over-the-air software updates that will become standard for millions of its vehicles in the coming years.

The Dearborn automaker recently launched "Power-Up," its name for its wireless software update technology, on the new Mustang Mach-E electric SUV and the redesigned 2021 F-150 pickup truck. Next, the company says, it will launch similar capabilities on the Bronco SUV that is slated for release this summer, and eventually across its vehicle lineup.

“Today, we’re building nearly all new vehicles globally with embedded modems that allow for a new level of exchange between our customers, our company and the world," said Alex Purdy, Ford's director of business operations for enterprise connectivity.

Among the features that Ford will deliver via OTA updates: an embedded, hands-free version of Inc.'s Alexa cloud-based voice service, and BlueCruise, Ford's active-drive-assist system.

Ford Motor Co. is slated to deliver a built-in version of Amazon Alexa to hundreds of thousands of customers this year, using over-the-air software updates.

Ford executives have spoken frequently about the opportunities posed by connected vehicle technology. The company is looking to shift from a business model under which customers primarily come to the automaker for a one-time transaction, to a relationship in which customers are continually interacting with the company via technological features that deliver new, data-driven revenue streams for the company.

“We believe that data is the new oil, since it’s essential to our electric future and enables us to have an always-on relationship with our customer," said Purdy.

Ford also sees the technology as a way to reduce warranty costs as technology allows previously-costly fixes to be quickly diagnosed and resolved via OTA updates.

“Maybe the greatest leap forward, enabled by connectivity, is our ability to code and send over-the-air updates to connected vehicles and change embedded software," Purdy said. "That means a steady stream of improvements and new features and services can be delivered completely wirelessly. We can double down on the features that people love, get rid of the ones that they don’t, fix the things that are broken, and improve the things that aren’t, all while learning along the way."

Over the last several months, Ford has accelerated its push toward electric and technologically-advanced vehicles, boosting its planned investment in EV development, announcing a strategic partnership with Google, and ramping up production of its first all-electric vehicle, the Mach-E, among other moves.

Ford officials say Power-Up is capable of remotely reaching virtually any computer module in its vehicles. 

Its goal is to produce 33 million OTA-capable vehicles globally by 2028. So far, the company says, it has unleashed an initial round of updates to about 100,000 customers over the last two months, with a new round coming soon.

The moves announced Thursday amount to a new step in Ford's relationship with Amazon. Ford first announced in 2017 that it was teaming up with the technology giant to make Alexa compatible with Ford vehicles that have the automaker's SYNC infotainment system. 

Now, Alexa will be embedded in Ford vehicles. Alexa initially will be delivered via Power-Up beginning this fall for some 700,000 Bronco, Edge, F-150, Mustang Mach-E and Super Duty customers with SYNC 4 technology in the U.S. and Canada, with other regions to follow.

The feature will be complimentary for three years. And officials from the two companies said there is more to come from their collaboration: under a new "strategic engagement," they will work together on new features and commercial services over the next six years.

Alexa will be capable of helping drivers do everything from making phone calls to finding parking to controlling smart home devices, all hands-free. Even outside their vehicle, customers will be able to control vehicle functions using Alexa.

"Today what we're doing is fully-embedded implementation," explained Ned Curic, vice president of Alexa Automotive. “We believe the opportunity for creating in-vehicle voice experiences in cars should be on par to what we do today in the smart home.”

A major difference, officials said, will be users' ability to engage with Alexa using voice commands, with no need to push a button.

Meanwhile, Power-Up later this year will add BlueCruise to properly equipped F-150 and Mach-E vehicles. The system, now available for purchase, enables hands-free driving on some 100,000 miles of divided highways across North America. 

And another feature that soon will be rolling out for Mach-E owners in North America is Sketch, a function for touchscreen drawing.

For customers, Ford officials said, the capabilities mean less time spent at dealership service departments, an ever-evolving bevy of features, and a vehicle that has the potential to actually get better over time.

"We’ll be working our way through all of the different nameplates over time, as we update vehicles with the latest electrical and connectivity architecture," said Purdy. "This capability is expected to go across the entire fleet, but it will take many years. We started with the largest volume parts of our business.”

Twitter: @JGrzelewski