CHENNAI, India — Cars are growing more intelligent every day, and more capable, a result of R&D from car makers like Ford. These days, after a late night out you can trust your car to tell your friends that you arrived home safely.
Thanks to Ford's revolutionary open source platform OpenXC currently under research, a third-party mobile application now allows a driver to send a ‘Late arrival notification’ and ‘Safe arrival notification’ to selected contacts in their mobile phone with an automatic location update.
OpenXC, jointly developed by Ford Research and Innovation and New York City-based Bug Labs, is a combination of open source hardware and software that allows you to extend your vehicle with custom applications and pluggable modules. OpenXC will be available to customers sometime in the near future.
Through OpenXC, car owners can install a small hardware module to read and translate metrics from a car's internal network, making the data accessible from most Android mobile phones.
“Imagine a Ford Figo that tells your family when you reach your destination safely – a car that you can constantly reconfigure and personalise to suit your ever-changing needs and demands," said K. Venkatesh Prasad, group and senior technical leader, Vehicle Design and Infotronics, while unveiling the third party mobile application at the NASSCOM India Leadership Summit in Mumbai recently. Prasad, known as Ford's "What's Next Guy", is one of the masterminds behind the successful Ford SYNC® in-car connectivity system.
By monitoring location and speed information from the vehicle, the application can determine if the driver is running late for a meeting and then send an email or text message notification to other attendees without any input from the driver.
For the core "Late Arrival" feature, all the app needs is vehicle speed and some common sense algorithms to detect traffic congestion. Apps like these don't require expensive smartphone hardware, and can use the hardware already provided by the vehicle instead of bringing it in separately.
But the story behind the development of Ford's first-ever third party mobile app is as interesting as the app itself. Still in the Beta stages of its development, Ford started shipping the first OpenXC Beta toolkits to universities such as the University of Michigan, MIT and Stanford, as well as initial developer partners, including Weather Underground in the U.S. and HCL Technologies in India.
"We are also looking at partnering with universities in India to work with us in developing this platform," said Prasad, who also addressed his alma-mater at IIT Chennai.
In an example of going further, teams of software developers/engineers at HCL Technologies in New Delhi, Ford India and Ford's Vehicle Design and Infotronics team in Dearborn, Michigan, got together to make the innovative app work in Ford cars. Working against the tight deadline of the NASSCOM summit in late February, the teams worked together to deliver the app in just two weeks.
Overcoming few technical issues of the new platform and time differences during the development, both teams worked closely via online collaboration tools to set up the system and test it within the short time. The teams were all praise for each other's expertise and collaborative support.
Prasad is optimistic that OpenXC will grow to be popular among developers and could help design more useful applications in future, like diagnosing the driver's ability to drive and suggest if he would like help.
Akhilesh Gupta, lead developer of the HCL team, believes this could lead to development of more usable apps that can send a notification in the case of an accident
"The very positive response to OpenXC so far makes it clear that there is great demand for an open development platform for in-vehicle apps. I think this is a good direction for the industry, and will bring a whole new generation of engineers and innovators to the business," said Chris Peplin, the lead developer at Ford's Vehicle Design and Infotronics in Dearborn.