Cars Are People, Too: Road Trippin' Ford Fiesta Tweets As It Travels

May 13, 2010
'Auto'matic Blog for the Ford Fiesta's American Journey 2.0

'Auto'matic Blog for the Ford Fiesta's American Journey 2.0

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Last week, we told you about a group of University of Michigan students who'd been developing apps for cars. Now, some of those students are about to give their work a test drive -- a long, cross-country test drive in a new Ford Fiesta. But they won't be going it alone: in Fiesta #2, some road trip buddies from Ford Motor Company will be testing out another series of apps, including one that helps their car post updates to Twitter. Let's see HAL 9000 top that.

The setup for this publicity/research stunt is a little complicated, but here are the key bullet points:

• Ford has provided two Fiestas for a cross-country road trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan to San Mateo, California.

One of those Fiestas will be driven by UM students John Ciccone, Collin Hockey, Sangmi Park, and Joe Phillips. They developed an app called "Caravan Track", which was judged to be the best of the bunch created for their "Cloud Computing in the Commute" class.

The other Fiesta will be driven by four folks from Ford Research & Advanced Engineering: Tom Alexander, T.J. Giuli, Joe Rork, and Joe Ross. They'll also be testing apps -- apps they've developed in the labs, including one that lets a car tweet on its own.

• Along the way, the two cars will stop and universities and such -- which only makes sense, since the Fiesta marketing team has Millennials squarely in its sights.

• The road trip ends at Maker Faire, which is kind of like the illegitimate love child of Etsy and Instructables and a nice way to brand the whole app-centric stunt as a DIY endeavor. Also: Maker Faire presents many more opportunities to put the Fiesta in front of its target audience of tech-loving whippersnappers.

The road trip's marketing elements are fairly self-explanatory, and we covered the UM apps before, so today's real takeaways are the three apps being tested by Ford's employee team:

1. "Auto"matic Blog allows the Fiesta to send out tweets based on its current "mood". Basically, the app interprets data from onboard sensors and the engine computer to determine whether the car is happy, sad, angry, or somewhere in-between. Guili explains:

For example, if one assumes that a happy car is one that's zipping along an open road or negotiating tight curves, the powertrain sensors -- engine rpm, speed, steering inputs, g-loads, that sort of thing -- can indicate to the car that it's in one of those fun situations, and the car can then indicate that with a tweet or blog post. Similarly, if it's at zero mph with the wipers on, the car might decide it's sitting in traffic in the rain and send a sad tweet.

And yes, it can send Twitpics. Follow the Fiesta -- dubbed AJ -- at Or, of course, on Facebook:

2. Local Search is similar to "Auto"matic Blog app in that it allows the car -- sorry: AJ -- to interact with social media outlets on its own. Specifically, Local Search lets AJ check in at various spots along the route by using the popular geolocation service Foursquare.

3. We have a fuzzier understanding of Virtual Road Rally. From the description offered in Ford's press release, it sounds a little like the Caravan app that students developed, but instead of allowing cars to communicate with one another on the go, it allows towns, shops, and other venues to communicate with vehicles. Which makes it sound a little like Foursquare + Wikipedia + Google Maps' business listings, which sounds pretty freaking awesome.

In case you missed our previous write-up of the UM students, here's a video about their work. And of course, curious types are welcome to review the full release from Ford below.

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  • Ford's American Journey 2.0 research project concludes with first-ever social media-connected road trip from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif.; Ford engineers, University of Michigan (U-M) students demonstrate first-ever auto-centric cloud-based apps
  • Ford-developed apps include "Auto"matic Blog, which will allow the car, known as "@AJtheFiesta," to periodically tweet its interpretation of the journey based on vehicle telemetrics; another app will automatically check-in the team via Foursquare at stops and points-of-interest
  • The road trip involves stops at three major universities; each serves as part of a larger Ford effort to excite potential customers while showing tangible proof of the company's commitment to leading the convergence of the automobile and Internet through open innovation
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