Ford building new apps that can run in the car (not on the Smartphone)

Ford has opened the Sync programming interfaces to mobile app developers. In January, Ford, Pandora, Stitcher, and Orangatame debuted Sync-enabled software that allow drivers to use the car’s voice-recognition and speech-synthesis systems to interact with Internet-based streaming radio and Twitter apps running on the driver’s phone.

Now Ford is looking to do much more than simply create in-car versions of existing smart phone applications. With the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Microsoft, Ford is providing expertise for a computer science and engineering course called “Cloud Computing in the Commute.”

Students in the class will work in small teams to design, build, and demonstrate automotive telematics applications. “The services you care about when you’re driving are different from those you use when you’re walking around with your phone,” says T.J. Giuli, a software engineer in Ford’s Infotronics Research and Advanced Engineering division, who is co-teaching the class with Michigan professors Brian Noble and Jason Flinn.

“We’re not interested in apps that could be running on your smart phone and moving it into your car,” says Noble. Instead, the students are developing unique apps, such as a “green mileage” application, or a crowd-sourced app to track road conditions and traffic.

The Sync-enabled apps available today run on a smart phone, with a programming interface providing a connection between those apps and a car’s on-board voice engine. But the Michigan students are developing apps that will generally run in the vehicle, taking advantage of onboard processing and storage in a specially modified 2011 Ford Fiesta (Giuli refers to the research platform as “Fiestaware”). The students also have access to cloud-based services for computation and storage, and some are making use of that in addition to onboard resources.

Even using general-purpose processors and operating systems, there are special challenges in designing apps specifically for cars, however. For example, even within a manufacturer such as Ford, not every car model uses the same networking system to send data to and from the various sensors and subsystems in the vehicle. As a result, every app would have to be adapted for each basic car model. Giuli hopes that in the future, vehicle networking might be standardized, at least within a single automaker, to simplify things for app developers.

Courtesy: Technology Review.

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