SAN FRANCISCO—As new motor vehicles replace older ones every day on roads around the world, on-board computing infrastructures and mobile applications become more commonplace and thus more available and useful to users.
Whereas only a few years ago, vehicles may have had a single on-board computer to monitor the health of the engine, transmission, electrical and hydraulic components, there now may be dozens of processors compiling and analyzing scads of data streams and reporting not only to users but also to outside service providers. Promising new opportunities lie in wait for developers interested in the automotive software sector.
John Ellis, a Ford global technologist who organized the corporation's software development program and community, heads up what amounts to the most advanced development community in the industry—the Ford Developer Program. eWEEK caught up with Ellis at the recent sixth annual Open Mobile Summit at the Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel here.
Program Available to All Coders
The Ford Developer Program makes the Microsoft Sync platform available to all coders who want to take a shot at building a new mobile application. Developers also can use this program for other vehicle manufacturers. Projects can include anything from designing a new button for a touch-control dashboard app to a completely new application for, say, searching for an open parking space in a crowded downtown area.
Registrants use the Sync connectivity system and Ford's own application programming interface, or API. Developers directly interface with the vehicle to create their applications. Ford provides testing and verification technical support from its in-house engineers free of charge.
Ford also has its own software development kit (SDK), which is basically Sync in a box. It includes a mock-up of a dashboard console developers can use to test their apps. The ultimate goal is to design and build more and better apps for Sync and the Ford fleet.
"We launched the software development program Jan. 7, 2013, at 4 p.m. Pacific Time at CES [the Consumer Electronics Show]. This was a big deal because it was the first automotive development program [to get organized]," Ellis told eWEEK. "Also it was notable that at the launch at CES, our executives spoke for an hour about it, and not once did they say the word 'car.' It was all about the software. This was in clear recognition of the growing importance of the role of software [in the automotive industry]."
Software Getting More Pervasive
Ellis offered another example of the expanding importance of software—not only in ground transportation, but in all its forms: "When the [NASA] Space Shuttle launched a number of years ago, it had 500,000 lines of code. Our 2012 Taurus has 50 million-plus lines of code. In 2020, we're estimating that it'll be over 100 million lines of code."
The impact of automotive software can no longer be ignored, Ellis said, and when done right, "offers phenomenal service and opportunity for us to differentiate the vehicles at levels and a pace we've never seen before."
Ellis, who formerly worked at Motorola, said that the Ford Developer Program now has more than 6,000 registered developers.
"It's a global program, there are no restrictions—you can be anywhere in the world, we don't care," Ellis said. "Most of those in the program are like me in that they've been working in other mobile areas before. We're trying to raise awareness through the traditional means: We speak at events, we do outreach through the social networks, we do 'hacks' [hackathons], we have mailing lists, and so on. We're following the paradigm of developer.google.com."