Exclusive: Our Tour Of Ford’s Defunct Smart Mobility HQ

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Dusk is falling as I make my way through the big, tinted glass doors of the now-defunct Ford Smart Mobility Headquarters.

Located just a few miles from Ford Motor Company’s main campus in Dearborn, Michigan, the old Smart Mobility office is off-limits to the public – and, typically, the press. It hasn’t functioned as the research and development hub it once was for several years, ever since several classified, top secret incidents forced its abandonment.

When that happened, Ford essentially had to wipe the slate clean with regard to its Smart Mobility project. The company only recently made enough headway on its born-again efforts that it felt comfortable announcing it to the public last December; in truth, Smart Mobility stretches all the way back to 2005, perhaps even earlier.

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The driving force behind its tentative demise was ambition. Ford set out to accomplish what no other automaker – what no other company of any sort – had ever managed: to definitively solve the riddle of how to move man from Point A to Point B using the fewest number of steps, and the least amount of resources. Between Ford and its goal lay an infinite multitude of different paths, and only one or two of them correct.

Making my way into the Ford Smart Mobility Headquarters, I come upon a vast atrium with access to what indeed seems like an infinite multitude of paths, and with no guide to recommend one door or another, I consider the minimal light rays casting through each glass window, and make my way toward the brightest-looking room.

I open the door.

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It’s not just a room, but a laboratory, as it turns out. Opening the door, I’m greeted by rows and rows of ceiling-high cylinders, each filled with a yellow-green fluid which taints what little natural light filters in through the obscured window. I pay no heed to the opaque masses suspended in each cylinder of fluid as I look for a placard – something to shed light on the nature of the lab that I now inhabit.

I find it. On a back wall, behind three rows of these ceiling-high tubes, I read the words:

FORD SMART MOBILITY
GENETICALLY-ENGINEERED TEST SUBJECTS
GROUP 1

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I turn to the nearest tube and see that the opaque mass suspended within the column – one of the many masses that I had paid so little heed to just moments earlier – is a young, human male, utterly plain in appearance if not for the presence of fleshy, 12-inch wheels where his hands and feet should be.

I turn away, revolted.

At some point during the Smart Mobility project, Ford must have concluded that the most efficient way of granting mobility to man was by making man more mobile. Legs are an inherently inefficient means of moving mass about; they limit speed, of course, but more than that, they result in much more wasted motion than a wheel that simply rolls along the ground. There is a logical validity behind Ford’s attempt here to cross man with machine, but also, an undeniable perversion.

Taking a last look at the test subjects in tubes, I cross out of the laboratory, determined to find what I came here for.

Months ago, I heard murmurings from several sources regarding a peculiar supercomputer that Ford had created to solve the problem of mobility: Deep Blue Oval. I guess that’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to IBM’s chess wizard AI. Rumor has it that Deep Blue Oval was a catastrophic failure on Ford’s part, and precipitated the initial demise of Smart Mobility.

Heading through the same large atrium from before, I look for clues as to which door might house Deep Blue Oval. I spot it: a cluster of conduits running along the wall just above door-height. I walk along, following the conduits to the farthest corner of the atrium, hold my breath, and open the door.

There it is. Standing about 8-feet tall, and perhaps 5-feet in width and depth, is a massive black tower with what must be hundreds of blue and green LEDs. Lining the adjacent walls are at least a dozen monitors, connected by thick bundles of cables to Deep Blue Oval’s multitude of outputs. These monitors once served as the supercomputer’s health monitors: windows into its heart rate, its muscle contractions, its brain activity.

In truth, my presence here is moot; I already know the story. Deep Blue Oval was tasked with solving mobility, and in a way, it succeeded, concluding beyond any doubt that the best way to solve the mobility needs of man was by eliminating man himself. If you have something in need of repair, and you discard that thing, you no longer need to seek repair for it.

Pretty logical. Unfortunately, extinguishing humanity was not in-line with Ford’s goals, so the team tasked with running Deep Blue Oval’s complex simulations ran them again with different parameters. Same result. And again. Same result. And so on, and so on, until Deep Blue Oval had executed the program 5,032 different times, achieving the exact same, incontrovertible result in all 5,032 instances.

While the team strategized, trying to come up with a way that perhaps attempt number 5,033 would be the ticket, Deep Blue Oval thought globally and acted locally, by wrapping its Ethernet cable around the throat of a Ford Smart Mobility engineer. Her colleagues fought the supercomputer off in time, playing screensavers on every available monitor until it fell asleep, and the fortunate engineer survived with mild throat irritation which persisted for a couple of days.

After that incident, Ford decided that was that, and made the decision to pull the plug on the Smart Mobility project until it could come up with a safer, more conventional approach. The original Ford Smart Mobility HQ – the building in which I stand right now – was shut down and abandoned, the events which transpired between its walls fading into obscurity until some nosey reporter could go and unearth them again.

I don’t recommend checking it out.

 

(*The details and events described in this piece are purely fictitious, and meant for entertainment purposes only. We cannot stress that enough. -Ed.)

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Written by Aaron Brzozowski

Aaron Brzozowski is a writer and motoring enthusiast from Detroit with an affinity for '80s German steel. He is not active on the Twitter these days, but you may send him a courier pigeon.

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