Development project aims to bring apps to cars

Ford and Bug Labs, an open-source hardware and software provider, have announced a joint development project to research, develop and distribute open-source developer tools to advance in-car connectivity.

Known as Open XC, the research platform is based on Bug Labs’ open-source Bug System and should let the developer community quickly prototype ideas and test out affordable connectivity concepts that could enhance Ford’s future products

At the Techcrunch Disrupt conference this week in San Francisco, the two companies demonstrated innovative products based on Open XC, including a socially-networked in-car fuel economy monitor connected to the internet via Bug Labs’ Bugswarm cloud-based service. The research connectivity platform is devised of open source hardware and software components such as the solar-powered heads-up display unit in the picture.

The aim is to make connectivity more available, affordable and personalised for the hundreds of millions of consumers expected to buy a vehicle across the globe by 2020.

Open XC could tranform the car into a plug-and-play platform where interchangeable open-source hardware and software modules can be quickly and easily customised to perform tasks. With Open XC, consumers can create a personalised driving experience through the addition of add-ons. Innovations such as visual and audio feedback interfaces, environmental sensors and safety devices can be implemented quickly by snapping Bug Labs’ hardware modules directly into Ford vehicles.

“Open XC is about creating a platform that is totally accessible to the developer community and quickly incorporates local market needs to offer innovative solutions at an affordable price point,” said Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader, Infotronics, Ford Research & Innovation.

“The platform is designed to help us answer the question of how Ford can accelerate the car connectivity experience around the globe, at a value proposition, for both mature and emerging markets.”

Ford is the first automotive OEM to collaborate with Bug Labs, a company that Peter Semmelhack founded in 2006 as a way for individuals and companies to break traditional barriers associated with hardware development. Since then, Bug Labs has helped developers and enterprises such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T, Accenture, Pitney Bowes and Darpa to conceive of, design, test and deploy innovative devices.

“Combining open, modular hardware and software innovation with the next generation of vehicles reinforces Ford’s position as the world’s automotive technology leader,” said Semmelhack.

“We are thrilled by the opportunity to collaborate with Ford on such a pioneering project.”

Ford researchers hope that lessons learned through the Open XC research project will help prepare the company for such unique market conditions around the globe as diverse local languages and dialects, fast-changing content preferences, and the need for affordable “buy as you can” or even rental apps.

The vision for Open XC is that the car becomes a docking station for Bug Labs interchangeable plug-and-play hardware and software modules programmed with only the connectivity features and services the driver wants. Functions change with the addition or deletion of modules, giving owners the freedom to customise their experience continually without breaking the bank, and at the same time, adding value to their vehicles as new technologies are introduced, purchased and plugged in.

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