Ford OpenXC supports apps for road use

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Cell phone driver

Ford's OpenXC may be a solution for this accident waiting to happen. Image: Jim Legans, Jr/Flickr/CC BY

According to the National Safety Council, at least 28 percent of all traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2010 involved drivers using cellular devices. Cell phone use behind the wheel has become a hot topic of contention for lawmakers, law enforcement and the public. While many call for more regulation, Ford may be working on a friendlier solution with its new experimental OpenXC platform for cars.

Android apps for cars only

OpenXC — an open-source connectivity research platform developed by Ford and New York City-based Bug Labs — employs a small hardware component installed in the vehicle that reads and translates data from the vehicle’s on board network. That information then is accessible for use in Android applications. With it, developers will be able to devise apps allowing drivers to send emails, get directions and who-knows-what other tasks without taking his or her eyes off the road.

T.J. Giuli, an engineer with Ford’s Infotronics Research and Advanced Engineering team, said:

“With OpenXC, we want to enable anybody to write for the platform. It’s based on Android, but it’s easier to use. It’s open-source software from the beginning. OpenXC is in private beta right now. When we do release publicly, the entire source base will be open.”

App developers to get access

OpenXC is being shipped to developers so that they can devise apps that keep a driver’s hands off his or her smartphone.

Giuli reported that the technology grew out of a previous platform, which was tested in a competition:

“OpenXC is a platform that’s grown out of several ideas we’ve been looking at for research for a while. We did a previous platform with similar ideas: You could write code that ran on your car, and we partnered with Microsoft and the University of Michigan, and teams designed applications and had a competition. We took a lot of the things we learned from that platform and applied them to OpenXC.”

Third-world consumer trends

Ford believes that the platform will better serve emerging economies like India, whose market needs are not easily discerned.

Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical director for Ford Research and Innovation, said:

“India is such a unique and diverse marketplace that –- as an automaker -– it’s almost impossible for us to keep pace with consumer trends. With OpenXC, Ford is opening up access to the car. By enabling local and independent developers to easily and quickly create apps using data provided by the car in combination with mobile connectivity and the power of the cloud, the possibilities are almost limitless.”

First toolkits have shipped

The University of Michigan, Stanford, MIT and several private developers — such as the U.S.-based Weather Underground and India’s HCL Technologies — were shipped the first OpenXC toolkits. As these developers run with the new research platform, who knows what new tricks they may devise for future Ford drivers?

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There is no definite word on when the platform will be made available in consumer cars. But Giuli suggests it could emerge as soon as this year.


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