Ford Invites Developers Inside the Car With New Dev Program, Platform

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2013-01-13
 
 
 

Ford Invites Developers Inside the Car With New Dev Program, Platform


Demonstrating not only that software truly is everywhere but also that attracting developers to your platform is key to the platform’s success, Ford Motor Company has launched a developer program to get more apps into their cars.

The Ford Developer Program essentially invites developers into the car. It is an application developer program that enables software developers to integrate their apps with Ford’s SYNC AppLink onboard system.

Ford has been a mainstay at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for several years and at CES 2013 the carmaker not only announced the Ford Developer Program, but additionally that its OpenXC platform – essentially an open API for your car – has come out of beta.

The Ford Developer Program provides developers with information and tools needed for the creation of relevant, voice-activated experiences inside the car, the company said.

Using the SYNC connectivity system and AppLink application programming interface (API), Ford said it is the first automaker in the world to launch an open developer program that enables software developers to directly interface with the vehicle and create apps that will enhance the driving experience.

"The Ford Developer Program marks a dramatic shift in how we will innovate new features and add value to our vehicles throughout the ownership period," said Hau Thai-Tang, vice president of engineering for Ford Global Product Development, in a statement. "Opening the car to developers gives consumers a direct voice and hand in the creation of apps that can help our products remain relevant, up to date and valuable to our customers."

SYNC was co-developed by Ford and Microsoft based on the recognition that consumer electronics evolve much more rapidly than vehicles. The connectivity system was architected to work with the mobile devices that drivers use every day, while providing an upgrade path that can bring new capabilities into the vehicle.

"Thanks to our partner Microsoft and their expertise, we have turned the car into a development platform with extensive opportunities to continue to add value through new features delivered at the speed consumers now expect," said Doug VanDagens, global director of Ford Connected Services, in a statement. "With more than 1 billion smartphones now in service around the world, we expect mobile connectivity will continue to grow in importance."

Thai-Tang said when Ford first introduced SYNC in 2007 there was a need for a way to connect and control cell phones and digital music players in the car. Thus, "Offering voice control so drivers can keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road has proven to be popular with our customers. Now, with an even faster adoption rate of smartphones, there is a need for a renewed focus on voice control for the unique capabilities of these devices, especially for the use of apps," he said.

Ford cites a recent Frost & Sullivan study that shows that one in five survey respondents acknowledge using apps while driving with no connection to the vehicle. While SYNC provides connectivity and voice control for phones and music players via Bluetooth or USB, AppLink provides a voice-activated interface, allowing drivers to control smartphone apps without the need to pick up their devices. First launched in 2010, SYNC AppLink provides voice command and control of mobile apps including popular services like Pandora personalized radio, Stitcher smart radio, NPR News, iHeartRadio digital radio and Scout personal navigation.

Ford Invites Developers Inside the Car With New Dev Program, Platform


"The car presents an all-new opportunity for developers, especially the millennial market, and we're looking forward to seeing what results," Thai-Tang added. "Engaging innovators outside of the company is a key part of our strategy to be consumer-driven in all aspects of our business, helping us not only satisfy what's going on today, but setting us up for innovative solutions to the challenges coming in the future."

Ford has been in a beta test with a group of invited developers as they work out details of the software development kit (SDK), documentation and technical support systems. With more than three dozen AppLink-compatible apps publicly available on Apple iOS and Google Android, the SDK is now mature enough that Ford engineers are ready to let the vast ecosystem of developers try it out, Ford said.

“I’m excited that Ford is launching the Ford Developer Program, a global program to bring the coolness of SYNC AppLink to Android and iPhone app developers around the world,” said Julius Marchwicki, global product manager of AppLink, in a blog post on the program.

Ford officials said the Ford Developer Program is similar to those at technology companies including Apple, Google and Facebook. App developers who want to enable their creations for AppLink can now register at http://developer.ford.com to download the AppLink SDK. The SDK contains code libraries and documentation for the APIs that enable two-way communication between mobile apps and the vehicle including voice commands from the driver.

"Since launching AppLink, we've worked with developers ranging from a two-man startup at Roximity to large organizations like National Public Radio and Major League Baseball," Marchwicki said in a statement. "The experience we gained from these projects as well as supporting hackathons at TechCrunch Disrupt and Facebook has helped us refine the development and testing process."

In addition to the libraries and documentation, developers will have access to technical support directly from Ford engineers and online discussion forums where they can share lessons learned with other developers, Ford said.

“We already have 13 different brands including Pandora, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, NPR News, MLB.com, Roximity and TuneIn Radio that have already used our APIs to create voice-activated applications using SYNC AppLink,” Marchwicki said in his blog post. “We’ve also had a number of cool developers like Kaliki, USA Today, Rhapsody, Amazon Cloud Player and Glympse all use this site in beta form to develop their applications. With their help, we’ve consolidated all of our learnings into resources available on this site to create working, vehicle-controlled and voice-enabled applications in AppLink-equipped vehicles today. And all these apps are developed on the smartphone, no vehicle required (though it is helpful)!”

Meanwhile, developers who have an idea for an app but need some help building it can turn to jacAPPS. Michigan-based jacAPPS will be the recommended mobile app development house for the Ford Developer Program. The company has been chosen to provide development and technical support to third-party developers wanting to create voice-activated smartphone apps for Ford SYNC AppLink.

"Our focus is to enhance the driving experience by minimizing the distractions caused by hand-held usage of smartphones while driving," added Marchwicki in a statement. "We know consumers are using apps such as music and navigation while driving; therefore, by making AppLink available to developers, we can help ensure relevant apps can now be voice-controlled."

Ford Invites Developers Inside the Car With New Dev Program, Platform


Currently, the three main categories of AppLink-enabled apps include: News and Information, Music and Entertainment, Navigation and Location.

Once a developer has incorporated AppLink code into the app, it will be submitted for review by Ford engineers to ensure it works properly and is suitable for use in the vehicle. Once approved, Ford will then work with the developer to provide a distribution license, after which the app is submitted to the relevant app marketplace.

Yet, while AppLink is available in Ford vehicles now, OpenXC is focused on the future as an open-source hardware and software platform developed by Ford Research and Innovation to unleash the power of the open-source hacker community to explore what can be done with vehicle data, Ford said.

OpenXC is a combination of open source hardware and software that lets users extend their vehicle with custom applications and pluggable modules. It uses standard, well-known tools to open up a wealth of data from the vehicle to developers.

“Ford is committed to innovating with the help of software and now hardware developers,” said Paul Mascarenas, Ford vice president and chief technical officer, in a statement. “By connecting cars and trucks to wireless networks, and giving unheard-of access to vehicle data, entirely new application categories and hardware modules can be explored – safety, energy efficiency, sharing, health; the list goes on. OpenXC gives developers and researchers the tools they need to get involved.”

The OpenXC kit includes a vehicle interface module based on the popular Arduino platform developers can use to read data from the vehicle’s internal communications network. The hardware module provides real-time access to parameters like the vehicle sensors, GPS receiver and vehicle speed. The hardware module is connected to a smartphone or tablet on which apps can be written to consume and use these data.

The read-only system is designed to keep everything isolated from the vehicle control systems so that users do not accidentally “brick” their cars. The OpenXC Website also provides schematics, documentation and code for open-source hardware modules, including the wireless solar-powered heads-up display developed by OpenXC co-founder Bug Labs.

“Through the OpenXC platform, we are paving the way for new opportunities that will help us prepare for the future of transportation where the automobile, mobile networks and the Internet cloud come together in ways never before imagined,” said Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader of Open Innovation for Ford Research and Innovation, in a statement.

“OpenXC is an extension of the work being done at the Ford Silicon Valley Lab focusing on big data, open-source innovation and user experience,” added Mascarenas. “We are enabling independent developers to flesh out their ideas using affordable and accessible hardware and software tools.”

Early in 2012 Ford shipped the first OpenXC beta toolkits to universities such as the University of Michigan, MIT, Stanford University and HCL Technologies in India. Since that time, OSIsoft has sponsored a hackathon to create an application using vehicle data from OpenXC in combination with its enterprise data analytics platform.

In addition, at Michigan State University, a team of undergraduate students has built an Android app that uses OpenXC to collect data from the Ford MyKey system into a centralized database and present it in visual report card format.

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