Monday, June 4, 2018

To sell the new Focus lineup, Ford is asking Europeans to talk to a sign.

Artificially intelligent outdoor video display to promote the Ford Focus.
Photo: Ford Media Center.
Although Ford announced in April that that they will discontinue U.S. sales of all of the Focus lineup except the Focus Active crossover, the situation is different across the pond in Europe, where Ford began pitching an "all-new" lineup of four flavors of Focus this spring. 

European Ford Focus lineup.
Photo: Ford Media Center.
Now, imagine the conversation around the conference room table as the marketing campaign to support the European launch of the lineup, which includes the Focus ST, the Focus Vignale, the Focus Titanium, and the Focus Active, was under discussion. Did some marketing guru actually say, "Hey, let's have people talk to a sign outdoors?"

Yeah.  Of course. That sounds like a great way to sell a car. 

Who knows, maybe it will be. Granted, this outdoor installation, which started a European tour in Milan last Friday and will travel on to London, Berlin, and Madrid, is a far cry from the usual outdoor marketing display. 

It's actually a set of five physically separate, six-meter-high LCD displays shaped into the letters FOCUS, interlinked by a control system to form a cohesive video display. And on the back of the F is a single display screen and an artificially intelligent user interface that passersby can talk to about their passions, or what they "Focus on" (see what Ford did there?) in life. 

The visitor can then step back and watch the AI system generate a video about his or her passions. Hopefully, it's artificially intelligent enough to keep everything family friendly, but then again there is the reputation that Europeans are a lot more open minded about these things than we prudish Americans. Just kidding.

Ford says the AI system controlling the display can communicate with users in four different languages, with a database of millions of images at its disposal to create a video that will "accurately match the passion of every unique user," whether it's surfing or stamp collecting.

Programmers spent 200 hours training the system to respond to user chats and recognize stated passions, according to Ford. The installation, which weighs 20 metric tons, took more than 6,000 hours to fabricate.

Ford's announcement provided no detail about what's up with the creepy dude in the chair hovering toward the top of the sign in the above photo. But it's a little reminiscent of the high-tech chair that helped the gravely injured Captain Christopher Pike get around in the pilot of the original Star Trek series.

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