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Tool Link

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) wasn’t even on the radar back in 1999 but Ford has teamed up with DeWalt tools to create 'Tool Link', a tool tracking system that uses RFID to wirelessly scan the cargo box for its contents. This potentially means no more lost tools at the jobsite or left behind in the garage.

Tool Link uses two RFID readers mounted in the cargo box sides to cross-locate and detect equipment affixed with RFID tags. Items the RFID system finds will show up in an inventory list on the in-dash computer screen.

Companies like Wal-Mart use the same technology to efficiently track merchandise shipments from factories to warehouses to store shelves.

To make prepping for jobs easier, Tool Link comes pre-loaded with standard tool lists that can be customized for specific tasks, such as roofing or tiling. A user getting ready to leave for work can select a list by name, checking the cargo box real-time to make sure all the tools for the job are in the truck. Hundreds of tags can be read at the same time to produce a list.

In a way, Tool Link is a fuel saving technology too. It should help prevent having to drive the truck back to a destination to retrieve a forgotten tool.

Tool Link will come with a number of tags when ordered but if more are needed, owners can order them online at the Ford Work Solutions web site.

Crew Chief

No more sneaking off for an afternoon siesta or 'getting stuck in traffic' on the way to a job. Your boss will know where you and your truck are at all times using Big Brother 'Crew Chief'.

Crew Chief uses the in-dash computer's GPS and wireless broadband systems to automatically relay the location of a truck to a designated fleet manager. The information is accessible online at the Ford Work Solutions website or on the in-dash display of the boss’ truck. It can also display real-time vehicle speed and send alerts if it detects excessive speed or idling.

Of course, trucks can also be re-routed dynamically to a service call, so the closest unit responds to save fuel and time. At least that’s the primary business scenario being pitched with the Crew Chief feature.

Crew Chief can also interface with the truck's on-board diagnostics system to send alerts if engine codes are thrown indicating a problem, so maintenance can be managed proactively.

Grumble all you want about this technology and the privacy implications it raises for workers, but it’s here to stay because it will save a company time and money.

Cable Lock

The last item Ford is introducing for F-Series trucks is primitive compared to the other telematics-based features. That doesn’t mean it won’t be effective or help save money.

Ford has partnered with lock maker MasterLock to deliver a strong, flexible, and retractable cable lock that can be threaded around tools in the cargo box for security when there’s no lockable toolbox or tonneau cover in the bed.

The cable self-stores in a box mounted on the side of the bed when it’s not in use. It can be retrofit on almost any Ford pickup, not just the 2009 models.

Summary

Usability is a key concern with any computer-based application. If Ford can deliver telematics products for commercial users with interfaces that are easy to connect with and use, the company will have greatly expanded the envelope of what it means to deliver capability in a pickup truck.

Monthly fees for the services will also deliver the company new revenue streams and make switching to other brands of pickup difficult to do – increasing owner loyalty.

These features will revolutionize pickups as work tools.

For a second opinion on Ford Work Solutions and first-hand video demos of the cable lock and in-dash computer, be sure to check out Sam Abuelsamid's story at Autoblog.

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