On the exterior, the Ford Endeavour -- one of the best-known midsize SUVs in India -- may look like just any other rugged all-terrain transportation option.
But the company hopes the advanced technologies accessible through the vehicle, including wireless communications and an open-source development platform called OpenXC, could inspire smarter and more cost-effective first responder and telemedicine solutions for rural communities, under-served urban areas or developing economies.
Ford researchers recently completed a nine-month pilot test of these capabilities in Kodamaathi, a small rural village in India with an above-average infant and maternal mortality rate compared with other regions.
The program, Sustainable Urban Mobility with Uncompromised Rural Reach (SUMURR), used Ford Endeavours with mobile phones and laptops to bring medical care to where it was needed, including areas that are difficult to reach with other modes of transportation and where communications networks haven't penetrated. In all, the initiative visited 54 villages, facilitating community awareness among 3,100 people and helping 41 women deliver their babies more safely.
Assisting Ford with the SUMURR project were organizations that included the U.S. Department of State, the Department of Health of the Government of Tamil Nadu, George Washington University, IIT Madras Rural Technology and Business Incubator (RTBI), Reliance IIT Center of Excellence, the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Hand in Hand India and the University of Michigan.
"SUMURR is an initiative to harness the potential of affordable technologies with innovations that address local contexts for sustainable growth," said Ashok Jhunjhunwala, founder and co-chairman of RTBI and a professor of electrical engineering at IITM. "From voice-based local language interfaces to a portable system architecture that covers significant aspects of women and child healthcare, it is heartening to note that this program has not only democratized technology but is also finding acceptance and adoption of the technology with the rural mothers and healthcare personnel."
Next page: Spurring innovation in rural communities
Image courtesy of Ford.