Driving In The Cloud: Ford, UM Show Off New Apps For Your Car

May 4, 2010
App preview from Ford & U Mich's 'Cloud Computing in the Commute' project

App preview from Ford & U Mich's 'Cloud Computing in the Commute' project

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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.

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