Ford: Hackers Welcome

Sections: Infotainment

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(Image courtesy Ford Motor Company.)

Ford has started 2013 by opening its corporate arms to what it calls “hackers.”

At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the automaker announced it would open its SYNC system to software developers via the SYNC AppLink application programming interface (API). Ford hopes developers will use the API to program new, innovative apps that allow drivers to control smartphone functions, apps, and more via voice command, the Motor Company said in a press release.

Ford’s vision for future infotainment development goes farther than mere software, however. The automaker is offering a development platform it calls OpenXC that will allow “hackers,” as Ford calls them, to explore the possibilities enabled by vehicle data.

Ford Vice President and Chief Technical Officer Paul Mascarenas said, “Ford is committed to innovating with the help of software and now hardware developers. By connecting cars and trucks to wireless networks, and giving unheard-of access to vehicle data, entirely new application categories and hardware modules can be explored – safety, energy efficiency, sharing, health; the list goes on. OpenXC gives developers and researchers the tools they need to get involved.”

The Blue Oval Brand says the developer kit includes a “vehicle interface module based on the popular Arduino platform developers can use to read data from the vehicle’s internal communications network. The hardware module provides real-time access to parameters like the vehicle sensors, GPS receiver and vehicle speed. The hardware module is connected to a smartphone or tablet on which apps can be written to consume and use these data.”

According to the press release, the following are some areas developers can target using the OpenXC platform:

  • Big data – Ford is increasingly a data-driven company fusing both internal and external sources to guide product and marketing offerings and support strategic decision making. In addition, vehicle data from the growing list of sensing technologies built into the car can be used locally to provide for the creation of a more personalized, convenient and productive driving experience, and aggregated to help address congestion and improve efficiency
  • Open-source innovation – Viewing the car as a platform and providing access to real-time data allows for the rapid development of custom hardware and software applications. Ford has extensive experience in development of on-board and off-board applications for production cars using the SYNC in-car connectivity system, and now the Silicon Valley Lab is looking at open-source research using the OpenXC platform
  • User experience – Connectivity is an increasingly important part of the total user experience while driving. Finding new ways to reduce stress and keep the driver informed can make driving a more pleasant experience

Ford says universities have already started tinkering with the system, including Michigan State University, which has developed an Android app that uses OpenXC to collect data from the Ford MyKey system into a centralized database and present it in visual report card format. While that sounds, frankly, boring enough, opening the technology to developer teams can only produce more interesting results from this point forward.

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