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OpenXC: Ford Launches an Open-Source Platform for In-Car Connectivity and Apps

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Cars and the Internet are slowly getting closer, but it's still hard for developers to get their apps into cars without being invited by the automobile industry. Given the security and especially safety concerns involved here, things will likely remain this way for a while, but a new project from Ford aims to accelerate in-car app development. The company today announced that it is now shipping a beta version of its OpenXC hardware and software platform to a group of handpicked universities, including the University of Michigan, MIT and Stanford, as well as app developers like the Weather Underground in the U.S. and HCL Technologies in India.

OpenXC was developed in corporation with Bug Labs.

The Modular and Upgradable Car

Here is the general philosophy behind OpenXC:

What if the user-facing hardware and software was independent from any one vehicle, and could be purchased and installed by consumers as an aftermarket add-on? What if the infotainment hardware was more modular and user-upgradable, and perhaps most importantly, transferable from one vehicle to another?

If it becomes widely adopted, every car would feature an OpenXC connection that is linked to the dashboard interface and audio system. Then, you could just buy extra hardware modules or software for your cars and plug it into the OpenXC connections just like you plug a USB device into your computer. Your wireless provider, for example, could offer a 3G module and if you want to switch to LTE, you just swap the modules out.

The average car now has a lifespan of 13 years, says Ford. That means the technology your car uses today will be outdated quickly if you can't upgrade it. OpenXC would make it possible to keep up to date for far longer.

For Developers: OpenXC Brings Android and Arduino to Your Car

This new platform is currently based on Android and gives developers real-time access to a large number of a car's sensors, the GPS receiver and other data from the car's systems. Ford notes, however, that there is no reason why somebody couldn't port the libraries it uses to other operating systems as well. The reference hardware, which uses the popular Arduino platform, should cost under $150 (plus the cost of an Android tablet).

It's worth noting that this is currently only a limited release and that the actual source code is not yet available. Ford, however, promises that it will happily add more developers every day (you can sign up here) and that the source code will be available soon.

To ensure these new apps don't interfere with the basic functions of the car itself, the apps remain isolated from the vehicle control systems (think steering, brakes, ABS etc.).

When Ford and Bug Labs first announced their plans for OpenXC, the companies noted that they hope that this platform will allow developers to "quickly prototype ideas and test out affordable new connectivity concepts that could enhance Ford’s future products."

One of the apps Ford is demoing today was built by HCL and interfaces with the car's GPS to provide regular location updates selected personal contacts.

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11:16 am


Toyota and Ford to Jointly Develop In-Car Connectivity Standards

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 This morning, Ford and Toyota announced that they have signed a memorandum of understanding that will allow the two companies to work together on building a new standard for telematics platform for their cars that will enable in-car communications systems and Internet-based services. The two companies plan to sign a formal agreement early next year.

Ford, of course, has made a name for itself in the technology industry by adding more and more technology to its cars in recent years, mostly based on its SYNC system. Toyota, too, recently introduced Entune. Just like SYNC, Entune connects cars to the Internet through existing cell networks.

Standardizing the Technology, Not the Look and Feel

Toyota specifically noted that these new systems will be able to link to home energy systems and allow drivers to save money by recharging plug-in hybrids and electric cars whenever their electricity is the cheapest. Ford also stressed that the collaboration will mostly focus on back-end infrastructure and standardizing enabling technologies, including standardizing Bluetooth systems, in-car WiFi systems and similar technologies. Both companies stressed that their respective systems would keep their own looks and feature sets.

It’s worth noting that Ford’s current SYNC system is based on Microsoft’s in-car software platform and that Toyota and Microsoft recently announced a similar partnership. Toyota also plans to use Microsoft’s Azure as its cloud computing platform for its next-generation telematics platform. Having a similar platform will likely help both companies to collaborate on these systems.

In addition to the collaboration in the telematics field, the two companies also announced that they would collaborate on developing new hybrid systems for small trucks and SUVs.



2:37 pm