SAN FRANCISCO – With Ford SYNC successfully giving millions of customers the in-car connectivity they crave, Ford and Bug Labs are together exploring the next frontier in how to make connectivity more available, affordable and personalized for the hundreds of millions of consumers expected to buy a vehicle across the globe by 2020.
Today, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, Ford and Bug Labs, an open-source hardware and software provider that offers the tools and support needed to prototype, pilot and produce innovative networked devices, announced a joint development agreement to collaborate on a new in-car research platform named OpenXC.
Based on Bug Labs’ groundbreaking Bug System, OpenXC transforms the car into a plug-and-play platform where interchangeable open-source hardware and software modules can be quickly and easily customized to perform tasks deemed previously unimaginable by developers. With OpenXC, consumers can truly create a personalized driving experience through the addition of countless add-ons. Innovations such as new visual and audio feedback interfaces, environmental sensors and safety devices can be implemented quickly by snapping Bug Labs’ hardware modules directly into Ford vehicles.
“OpenXC is about creating a platform that is totally accessible to the developer community and quickly incorporates local market needs to offer innovative solutions at an affordable price point,” said K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader, Infotronics, Ford Research and Innovation. “The platform is designed to help us answer the question of how Ford can accelerate the car connectivity experience around the globe, at a value proposition, for both mature and emerging markets.”
Peter Semmelhack, founder and CEO of Bug Labs, agrees that an open-source platform approach such as OpenXC offers up limitless possibilities for customizing the in-car experience to meet the different market needs around the globe.
“Combining open, modular hardware and software innovation with the next generation of vehicles reinforces Ford’s position as the world’s automotive technology leader,” said Semmelhack. “We are thrilled by the opportunity to collaborate with Ford on such a pioneering project.”
Ford is the first automotive OEM to collaborate with Bug Labs, a company that Semmelhack founded in 2006 as a way for individuals and companies to break traditional barriers associated with new hardware development. Since then, Bug Labs has helped developers and enterprises such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T, Accenture, Pitney Bowes and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to conceive of, design, test and deploy innovative devices.
Ford researchers hope that lessons learned through the OpenXC research project will help prepare the company for such unique market conditions around the globe as diverse local languages and dialects, fast-changing content preferences, and the need for affordable “buy as you can” or even rental app solutions. For Bug Labs, involvement in OpenXC signifies a paradigm shift in the way that automotive companies are exploring new ways to meet consumer demands.
The opportunity for automotive connectivity is tremendous. According to IHS Automotive, potential future global vehicle sales could reach nearly 110 million units per year by 2020, a nearly 30-million jump from where global sales stand today. The biggest climber over the next nine years: Asia, with nearly 20 million more units expected to be sold in 2020 compared with 2011.
Personalized, local content
The vision for OpenXC is simple: the car becomes a docking station for Bug Labs interchangeable plug-and-play hardware and software modules programmed with only the connectivity features and services the driver wants. Functions change with the addition or deletion of modules, giving owners the freedom to continually customize their experience without breaking the bank, and at the same time, adding value to their vehicles as new technologies are introduced, purchased and “plugged” in.
The idea was spawned during a trip Prasad took to India where he noticed that while most people couldn’t yet afford a car, they did have affordable feature phones with significant functionality. “Virtually everyone carried phones rich in locally relevant features such as an LED flashlight and applications such as an astrological almanac – all for a cost of about $40,” Prasad said. “So, the challenge became how can we deliver similarly relevant and affordable connectivity inside the car.”
“Imagine you live in India, own a Ford Figo and love the game of cricket,” explained Prasad. “Now imagine that you could purchase a $30 community cricket module from your local Ford dealer that was designed by a local developer and approved by Ford. This module plugs into a master control board in your car and your Figo would then play a community radio channel dedicated to cricket for the season. After the season is over, you could remove the module and replace it with something else.”
OpenXC platform is designed to give Ford researchers and independent developers the ultimate sandbox to play in with minimal investment, where any and all ideas, concepts and theories for in-car connectivity can be shared, tested and verified.
“Open innovation platforms give communities globally the power to customize and personalize their products. As an added benefit, it also frees manufacturers, like Ford, from investing in, building and deploying low-volume highly customized vehicles for specific markets – while opening up opportunities for other manufacturers to create value-added products and services for Ford vehicles,” said Bug Labs’ Semmelhack.
While the OpenXC platform shows much potential for Ford in emerging markets where a low-cost value connectivity solution is vital, the concept is also giving Ford the freedom to explore other business models as well:
- Distribution – The ability to sell or rent hardware and software modules through local dealerships and/or other aftermarket distribution channels
- Developer Resources – Creating certified open innovation toolkits and SDKs for developers that make innovation, app development, payment and distribution more seamless
- App Stores – Launching an app store model, where certified developers can offer up their Ford-approved innovations to consumers, who can buy them in a safe and fun environment
Showcasing the Possibilities
Ford and Bug Labs will demonstrate the OpenXC research platform at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on September 12, 2011. Using a Ford Fiesta as a demonstration vehicle, the two companies will showcase a prototype Fuel Economy Challenge application that uses Bug Labs’ Bug System and newly announced, cloud-based, data aggregation and application development platform, BUGswarm.
The socially-networked fuel economy app includes a Bluetooth-enabled LED fuel efficiency display module in the vehicle’s cockpit. When powered, the app illuminates the windshield with a small digital display indicating how fuel efficiently someone is driving. BUGswarm provides drivers, and other remote viewers, with real-time access to valuable performance information on others involved in the Challenge, providing instant feedback on who is driving most efficiently.
“We have given connectivity to millions of drivers with SYNC, but we know that one size does not fit all and that limiting ourselves to one connectivity model is not going to sustain us going forward,” said Prasad. “OpenXC gives us the ultimate sandbox to play in, where we can collaborate with technology innovators such as Bug Labs, share ideas with the crowd, and then test out our theories together so as those billions of drivers around the world start demanding more connectivity in the car, Ford will be best positioned to deliver it to them.”