Ford has a new office in Silicon Valley, and they aren’t drawing pictures of cars on the walls. At the Silicon Valley Lab (or SVL, in Ford shorthand) the focus is programming. Specifically, the lab is focusing on the future of customizable, programmable automobiles.
Ford SYNC is already available in all 2013 Ford models, and features AppLink, one of Ford’s forays into in-car connectivity and personalization. The feature is able to manage certain mobile apps (like Pandora, Stitcher, NPR News, Slacker Radio, MLB.com, and other radio-based apps) through voice commands. AppLink allows drivers to request a mobile app and station, providing a hands-free way to control the radio in your car. One non-radio based app can provide allergy sufferers with real-time information about outdoor allergens and pollen levels.
Building on SYNC, Ford has launched an open source research and development project in conjunction with the developers at Bug Labs. The project, called OpenXC, currently operates only as a research arm, with development taking place at the University of Michigan, MIT, and Stanford University, as well as some development firms.
The hope is that in the future, the project will allow customers to achieve a high level of customization in their vehicles. Using an after-market device that plugs in to the car’s master control board (collaborator Bug Labs already designs them), customers can choose and change apps at their discretion. Ford would sell the devices, loaded with apps, at dealerships.
Ford has been mum so far about what type of applications exactly could result from the project, but seemingly the possibilities are almost limitless. If a developer can code it, and if Ford approves it, you can have it in your car. An Indian company has already completed an app that tracks the vehicle’s GPS position and rate of travel. It can also alert your contacts if you are running late for a meeting. If that seems a little too “Big Brother” to you, it’s probably best to focus on ideas like a fuel economy tracker or customized local radio stations.
Ford hopes that the research will lead to an affordable solution for drivers with constantly changing tastes and appetites for connectivity and technology, especially in markets like Asia, where Ford is less aware of the needs and desires of consumers. As this is the first such project, it remains to be seen how successful the OpenXC project will be, but if it distracts consumers from MyFord Touch, it’s already on the right track.