Heading back to the car lugging arms full of shopping bags, we’ve probably all wished that the rear hatch could just pop open on its own. That hope has become reality for new Ford Escape and C-MAX owners, although the mechanism is more science than sorcery. The available foot-activated liftgate automatically rises when drivers kick below their cars’ rear bumper. My Ford spoke with Ford engineer Vince Mahé about the process of integrating this technology into the automotive world.
MY FORD: LET’S START WITH THE SCIENCE. HOW DOES THE LIFTGATE WORK?
Vince Mahé: It consists of two sensors and a control module. The two sensors measure the existence of a foot and a shin. They activate as soon as you get within a meter of the car. Once the sensor for the foot connects with a foot and a shin, along with the presence of the key fob, it sends a signal to the power liftgate.
MF: NEW TECHNOLOGY OFTEN MEANS EXTENSIVE TESTING. WHAT WAS YOUR TEAM’S STRATEGY?
VM: We tried to come up with what failures we could prevent, such as a trailer being towed or a dog wagging its tail under the car. How can it be inadvertently activated? And what we came up with on paper is turning out to be pretty good in the real world.
MF: YOU’VE WORKED ON MULTIPLE VEHICLE LAUNCHES AND INTEGRATION PROJECTS AT FORD. WHAT STOOD OUT THIS TIME?
VM: There really was no prior art. Usually when you work in this industry, there’s always someone who’s developed the concept before, so you go through this benchmarking exercise. This one, nobody has done before.
MF: DO YOU HAVE ANY REAL-WORLD LIFTGATE SUCCESS STORIES?
VM: I participated in a Facebook LiveChat where a customer came out and said that he was disabled—and that this technology definitely helped him out. Just when you think that you’ve got your customer base nailed down, you get a surprise. There’s someone you didn’t think would benefit from it, and it is now making his or her life better.