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

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 www.twitter.com/AJtheFiesta. Or, of course, on Facebook: www.facebook.com/AJtheFiesta.

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.

* * * * *

FORD AND U-M USE SOCIALLY CONNECTED ROAD TRIP TO DEBUT CAR AS NEXT PLATFORM FOR CLOUD COMPUTING

  • 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

ANN ARBOR, Mich., May 12, 2010 - Two Ford Fiestas will leave the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on May 13, and though the cars may be separate, they will be linked to each other and to the entire global community in ways that mark a new era in mobile connectivity.

Embarking upon a week-long road trip to Maker Faire, Silicon Valley's annual ideas festival, the Fiestas and their occupants will be serving as messengers from Ford announcing the arrival of the car as a technology platform.

"The car is the ultimate mobile device," claims Venkatesh Prasad, group and technical leader of the Infotronics team in Ford Research & Advanced Engineering. "Ford has led the convergence of the auto and consumer electronics industries, and now we're researching how to responsibly and safely harness the Internet to enhance drivers' time behind the wheel."

In one Fiesta, the team from Ford Research & Advanced Engineering (R&AE) and IT - T.J. Giuli, Joe Rork, Joe Ross and Tom Alexander - will be demonstrating three experimental apps, known as Virtual Road Rally, "Auto"matic Blog and Local Search, developed on top of Ford's application development platform built on Windows 7 and Microsoft Robotics.

In the second Fiesta, U-M computer science students Collin Hockey, John Ciccone, and Joe Phillips and School of Information student Sangmi Park will be using Caravan Track, an app they developed as part of a 12-week course called Cloud Computing in the Commute. Ford initiated the course to challenge students to develop social networking personal transportation apps. Caravan Track was judged the most compelling, out of six creative apps presented at the conclusion of the course, winning the students a trip to California with Ford engineers.

"We believe this is the first time vehicles will be socially connected through the Internet during a cross-country trip," said Giuli, Ford research engineer. "All the apps - from Caravan Track to the Virtual Road Rally, and particularly the notion of the car automatically posting its mood and location - really explore new boundaries in the use of digital tools to expand social links."

The road trip will signal the culmination of a yearlong Ford initiative called American Journey 2.0, a joint open innovation research project, supported by Microsoft and Intel, offering a group of U-M students a chance to define the future in-car experience.

About the Ford apps
The Ford team will be using three apps developed within the company's connected vehicle labs.

* Virtual Road Rally allows users to define points-of-interest (POIs) or physical landmarks, similar to those found in a road rally. The app can take the form of a "treasure hunt," revealing information about various POIs as drivers reach them.

It can also serve as a competitive drive app, allowing users to post various parameters for a specific drive. For example, a user could post the amount of fuel they used driving from A to B, and challengers would attempt to best that mileage. The app uses a Web-based component to allow users to upload rally points and challenge parameters, as well as post their individual results.

Road Rally users could also create rallies focusing on their own towns, allowing drivers who may never have visited a particular place to learn more about landmarks and POIs. Such a feature would let drivers share their favorite drives and provide small towns and "off the beaten path" locations a new way to attract visitors to unique places.

* "Auto"matic Blog attempts to elevate the car to its rightful standing as an equal member of the team, providing it with a personality and way to communicate its mood. The car itself, dubbed @AJtheFiesta, will automatically blog or tweet statements about the journey based on information it gathers from various vehicle data sensors or engine computer codes.

"For example, if one assumes that a happy car is one that's zipping along an open road or negotiating tight curves," explains Giuli, "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. Either way, we wanted to allow the car to become a blogger."

AJ will also be able to indicate via GPS trace the roads on which it's driving when it feels certain ways, and the system will also allow it to take a photo to show other drivers - and perhaps, someday, other cars - the conditions that trigger its opinions.

* Local Search uses a built-in social media component via the social networking app Foursquare. Each time the vehicle makes a stop, it will check in with Foursquare to identify the location, and it can also search for nearby restaurants, gas stations and parks.

Technology meets tradition
The Ford connected road trip is an outreach to two key demographics who will help shape the future of Ford vehicles: Fiesta buyers, largely expected to be connected young Millennials like the U-M students and the crowds expected to greet them during their university stops; and budding app developers interested in the future of software development and mobile platforms. At the same time, the journey hopes to harness the power of social networks and cloud computing to introduce a new twist to the great American road trip.

"The challenges faced by the students are representative of what the new era of developers will face as they begin programming the Internet-on-wheels, and what a new generation of customers will want from this technology," said Prasad. "We are creating tools for this new generation and we are learning as much as we can, while adapting to seeing things through the eyes of up-and-coming programmers."

A project like American Journey 2.0, involving teamwork with university students followed by hands-on testing, represents a significant developmental shift for Ford. The company is actively looking toward innovation hubs like universities and Silicon Valley to learn the best ways to deliver relevant and personalized content tailored for the individual driver's unique in-car experience.

"These collaborations are also valuable to Ford and our development ecosystem in the long term," added Prasad. "If we're going to lead in shaping tomorrow's world-on-wheels, we need a top talent pool from which to draw, and we need to be a catalyst to the entire value chain."

At the road trip's final destination, Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif., May 22, the U-M students and Ford engineers will have the chance to share their work with global leaders in technology development.

"Maker Faire is where technology enthusiasts gather to see new projects and I know they'll be excited to think about the car as a technology platform and the new applications that can be built" said Dale Dougherty, editor and publisher of MAKE Magazine and Founder of Maker Faire.

"This event is demonstrating that we at Ford do not view cars and trucks as just vehicles but as platforms for development," Giuli said. "Whether someone at Maker Faire is a car enthusiast or a techie or a programmer, we're inviting them to come interact with the vehicle and help us shape the future."

Follow the Journey
On Twitter: www.twitter.com/AJtheFiesta (#aj2)
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/AJtheFiesta
Ford Team Blog: www.AJtheFiesta.com
U-M Team Blog: www.AmericanJourney2.com

[Ford]

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