App preview from Ford & U Mich's 'Cloud Computing in the Commute' project
Some people believe that electric vehicles will reshape the auto industry. Others think fuel cells are the game-changer. The funny thing is: they're both completely wrong.
The biggest shake-up in the auto industry won't come from under the hood. It'll come from the dashboard, and it'll leverage the same technology that many of us already use every day. The biggest shake-up in the auto industry will come from apps.
Stop and consider the shift we've seen in telecommunications. Think back to 2007, when the iPhone was new and shiny and rare. Today, one in four of us have smartphones, and the number will soon jump to one in two. As those statistics have changed, the mobile handset has morphed from a device used for talk and text to a full-fledged, multi-function mini-computer. We use it to stay connected to friends, family, and colleagues 24 hours a day, and frankly, some of us barely remember life without it.
Ford has been moving toward an app-based in-car telematics system for some time -- in fact, we've covered the company's MyFord Touch on numerous occasions. But most of the apps for MyFord we've heard about have come from pre-existing apps for other operating systems. Now, thanks to a new course at the University of Michigan called "Cloud Computing in the Commute", Ford has begun tapping young minds for new apps that radically alter the way we interact with our vehicles and help integrate driving into the social fabric of our day. And to that, we say: FINALLY. We've been promised a seamless, interactive, computer-based lifestyle since The Jetsons first appeared on TV, so it's high time we got it.
The "Cloud Computing" class was divided into six teams, and each built an app as its final project. The winner was selected by judges from Ford, the University and Michigan, and Microsoft (which was only fair, since Ford's popular Sync system is a MS product, and the apps were built on a new, MS-based platform).
The winning app was called "Caravan Track", and as you'll see from the video below, it's a perfect bridge between social network "wants" and driving "needs". In a nutshell, it works like a conference call: anyone planning a roadtrip can sign into the "Caravan Track" website and secure a special code, which he or she can then share with other roadtrip participants. When drivers enter the code into the app, they can see the location of everyone else who's logged in at the moment. Participants can also communicate with one another, letting everyone know when they're stopping for gas, or when someone's getting hungry. It's the best sort of "well, duh" app: really useful, but hidden in plain sight.
The video clip below gives a rounder picture of the competition, and for those who want even more details, we've posted the full press release below. We sincerely hope Ford keeps participating in the program -- in fact, we hope the university makes it a requirement for graduation.
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Ford, University of Michigan Reveal Students' Vision for Future of In-car Cloud Computing Apps
ANN ARBOR, Mich., May 4
- As part of the research course, Cloud Computing in the Commute, six University of Michigan teams developed apps for in-car use; a panel of judges from U-M, Ford and Microsoft selected the winner based on relevance and usability
- The winning app, Caravan Track, will run in a Ford Fiesta research vehicle – outfitted with prototype software running on a Windows 7 PC powered by Intel – for the "American Journey 2.0" road trip to Maker Faire
- Ford continues to use the power of the crowds for app development and enhancement of its connected vehicle strategy, which aims to harness the power of social networks and cloud computing to deliver personalized content for a unique in-car experience
Students at the University of Michigan have defined their vision for the future of in-car connectivity – a future that includes applications combining social networks, GPS location awareness, and real-time vehicle data in ways that help drivers get where they want to go efficiently, while having fun along the way.
The experimental apps were developed by students who took part in a 12-week course, Cloud Computing in the Commute, at the university. The course, initiated by Ford Research & Advanced Engineering, prototyped social networking and transportation apps as part of a larger Ford initiative called "American Journey 2.0," a joint open innovation research project involving Microsoft and Intel, offering students the chance to innovate the future of the in-car experience.
"We consider the collaboration between Ford and the University of Michigan a model for innovation and open collaboration, and it's an exciting way to help shape tomorrow's work force," said Venkatesh Prasad, group and technical leader of the Infotronics team in Ford Research & Advanced Engineering. "Our philosophy is to constantly seek new channels of innovation, and the opportunity to share Ford's platform and expertise in a university environment has been invaluable."
In the class, the students explored and built applications based on access to Ford's developmental application platform built on Windows 7 and Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio, dubbed "Fiestaware," that enabled them to harness the power of social networks that safely and responsibly connect to the cloud. The software system is the first of its kind, and provides access to vehicle performance data, networking services, voice recognition, social networking tools and other data, as well as the Windows Azure cloud services platform. Students in the class were able to use the platform to conceptualize and build a new class of applications as class projects.
As part of the course, students were encouraged to explore the potential of cloud computing and natural user interfaces including voice and touch in the car. Defined as Web-based computing using services and software accessed over the Internet, rather than physically installed on a device, cloud computing is becoming a major catalyst driving development of new applications. Users are able to access cloud-based applications and process data remotely via their Internet data plan across a variety of devices, without requiring massive amounts of processing power and data storage.
Six teams of students presented their apps to a panel of judges from Ford, the University of Michigan and Microsoft. The winning application, called Caravan Track, will run on a Windows 7 PC in a Ford Fiesta research vehicle that will make a socially networked road trip from the university to Maker Faire, the world's largest do-it-yourself ideas festival in Silicon Valley, held in San Mateo, Calif., beginning May 22. The road trip will leave from Ann Arbor on May 14.
About the apps
Using technology and development tools provided by Ford, Microsoft and Intel, along with a crash course in vehicle interface design provided by Ford engineers, the six teams of students crafted these visions for the future:
- Caravan Track was judged the winning app. The software allows clusters of vehicles traveling together to track each other along the journey. After identifying a route on a main website, users can join to see fellow travelers; view vehicle telemetry including fuel level and speed; track each vehicle; map routes; send alerts about stops along the way; and send text notifications about road conditions and hazards via a multiple choice interface that eliminates the need to type. Team members include John Ciccone, Collin Hockey, Sang Park and Joe Phillips.
- Fuel Tracker provides drivers with real-time feedback about fuel economy and driving habits based on past drivers on a specific route. App users upload their results for different road segments, allowing users to compare details, compete for top fuel economy and share suggestions for improving mileage along specific routes. Team members include Paul Coldren, Amy Kuo, Petch Wannissorn and Clayton Willey.
- The GreenRide Challenge provides a collaborative ride-sharing system, attempting to connect drivers with potential carpool passengers in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The app is connected through Facebook, matching friends who need rides with destinations entered by the driver – and also allowing the driver to invite friends to ride. Points would be awarded for ride-sharing, providing for a possible sponsored reward component. Team members include Scott Dang, Nate Hill, Raphael Jarrouj and Bryan Summersett.
- Listen. Speak. Rate. Share. provides users in-car audio reviews for various points of interest, and also allows drivers to share their thoughts on visited locations, connecting through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other popular social media sites. Team members include James Di, Yi-wei Ma, Alok Talekar and Xiaowen Zhang.
- NostraMap collects data about road and traffic conditions, giving drivers advance notice about accidents, construction, poor surfaces and other hazards. The app relies on crowd-sourcing: When a user encounters a situation, he or she draws a single character on the map display (A for accident, C for construction, etc.), which is then updated for all users to see. Team members include Murtuza Boxwala, Nader Jawad, Justin Taseski and Sui Yan.
- Points-of-Interest uses a dynamic recommendation system to point drivers toward locations and businesses that match their interests but that they may not have otherwise visited. The system uses a complex algorithm to learn a driver's tastes and interests over time, allowing it to provide more tailored recommendations and learn the tastes of users with similar interests. Team members include Ryan James, Brad Rubin, Dhritiman Sagar and Weihua Wang.
Collaboration key to advancing Ford's connected vehicle strategy
Ford's work with the University of Michigan is a key facet in its plan to encourage app development for the vehicle, and at the same time harness the power of social networks and cloud computing to deliver the future of a grand tradition: the great American road trip.
"Already with SYNC®, we have proven that we can access information in the cloud," said Prasad. "This project gives us the opportunity to harness the power of student innovation to explore beyond current capabilities and develop what's next. We provided these students with the tools to innovate, and in approximately 100 days they created fun, unique and really useful results."
"This was an incredible opportunity for our students to work closely with an industrial partner on the leading edge of a growing trend," said Dr. Brian Noble, associate professor in computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan. "It's been a powerful experience showing these kids that there are really cool, high-tech problems waiting to be solved right here in Michigan. It would have been impossible without the help of Ford, Microsoft and Intel." Noble co-taught the course with U-M computer science and engineering associate professor Jason Flinn.
Working with Microsoft and Intel, Ford provided the students with a developmental application platform built on Windows 7 and Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio in the vehicle to access Windows Azure in the cloud.
A project like American Journey 2.0, involving teamwork with a university's student body, represents a developmental shift for Ford as it looks for ways to use novel models of open collaboration similar to how ideas are cultivated in Silicon Valley. The goal is to deliver relevant and personalized content tailored for an individual driver's unique in-car experience.
"Through our work with Ford, the University of Michigan and Intel on this project, Microsoft is helping to further open innovation within the automotive industry and provide a consistent, connected in-vehicle experience that seamlessly integrates into consumers' digital lifestyles," said David Graff, director of U.S. Automotive and Industrial Equipment Industry Solutions for Microsoft. "We commend each of these student teams for their creativity and work in developing these applications and look forward to continued collaboration opportunities to fuel the connectivity of future in-car systems with the vast world of Windows."
Intel also contributed expertise and technology tools to the project and is proud to participate in a project with future developers who will create the next generation of innovative, connected solutions for the car. "Intel is committed to offering products and technologies that will bring new compelling and driver-safe applications to the car," said Staci Palmer, director of Strategic Market Development, Embedded and Communications Group, Intel Corporation. "Our involvement in the American Journey 2.0 project is a great example of how Intel is working with industry leaders like Ford and Microsoft as well as future developers to encourage the development of connected computing solutions for the vehicle that bring personalized and relevant content to drivers and passengers."