Full throttle: Ford rides on app technology in India

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 16, 2012 06:33 hrs

Ever been caught in traffic and left wondering whether your car could - intelligently - send a signal to others, alerting them of your location and the possible time of delay?

That day may not be far.

You might get an application (app) for this with your next Ford car. The app, developed by HCL Technologies for Fords Motors, is part of the automobile company's initiative of the 'car as an IT platform'.

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Ford Motors, perhaps, is the first automobile company that has opened its research platform, OpenXC, to application developers.

"Last fall, we launched OpenXC in the US and it is still in the beta phase. We are working with three universities there - MIT, Michigan and Stanford. India is the first country outside of the US where we are opening our platform to application developers. At present, we are working with a few partners like HCL Technologies, and before I get back to the US, we hope take at least one university on board," said K Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader, Open Innovation, Ford Motor Company.

While Prasad did not give details of the revenue model Ford would have with developers, he said it could be similar to App Store's or some Android-based business model. "We are trying to create a developer story rather than a car story. At the end, it is the consumer who will benefit,"he said.

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OpenXC is an open-source hardware and software platform, developed by Ford Research and Innovation and New York-based Bug Labs.

It allows local developers to create market-centric apps that take advantage of mobile connectivity.

It has an interface module, based on the popular Arduino platform, which allows developers to read data from vehicle's internal communication network.

As part of this, Ford has started shipping tool kits to universities.

"This is a significant turning point, where cars have APIs available to developers. We have started doing that in the context of providers. Now, you have internet music providers and third-party map providers developing apps for cars. We could not have done this five years ago, as it is not a programmable platform. Phones are programmable platforms, so are computers. Now cars are citizens of the digital world, too," he added.

Prasad, also known as the 'what's next' guy at Ford, has started working on technology that makes driving much friendlier.

Ford Motors is working on two others. One pertains to vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications; the other makes the car do a heath check on you.

"V2V communication for security or accident alerts, etc will take time, as this would require the industry to come together and build a standard technology platform. But, if you are talking about consumer-level communication, then technology like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are available to create such a platform, where you can send a video between cars while travelling," he added.

The other tech that Ford Motors is working on is health application. "You could be an asthma patient. And there might be some areas where during certain season the climate condition is not conducive for asthma patient. Your car could then suggest that you take another route that would be safe and take you home safer. It would be like talking to your health coach," he added.

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