Ford Catches the Bug

It wasn’t that long ago one of our biggest fears was that our shiny, brand-new car might be stolen. Soon, our greatest fear might be that our car won’t just be stolen, but that it might be hacked. Oh, and by the way, you might just be the hacker. Or perhaps you could be the designer.

New platforms are being developed that are designed to bring even more connected functionality into the automobile. Sound confusing? Times are changing so fast with technology that consumers will soon have a hand in personalizing their own cars to fit a particular like and need. Personalization is the key, says Ford. And that’s the beauty behind the new platform and partnership the carmaker is achieving by teaming up with Bug Labs to experiment with ways to let car buyers add features and functions to the car of the future.

Last week I had a chance to speak with Ford and Bug Labs and what they are doing together is really game-changing. Bug Labs focuses on open-source hardware and software, and the company is providing its bug-system technology to Ford for a new in-car research platform called OpenXC. With the new Bug platform, consumers can plug-in new hardware such as cameras, fuel monitors, GPS, without a need for programming skills or engineering assistance.

Peter Semmelhack, Bug Labs’ president, told me that the OpenXC platform would allow customers to change the way we view cars. And that in 10 years we could see a lot of technology that allows us to personalize almost everything we own. I think that is pretty cool if we think about the possibilities here. Just think about all the things that could have “My” attached to it.

Now, safety, driver comfort, improved driver behavior, measuring heart rate, entertainment, all different apps from New York to India will be created with the new bug. Simply, the car becomes the Bug. Now Ford can continue to successfully give millions of customers the in-car connectivity anyway the customer wants it, when he or she wants it.

Thus, not only can we use hands-free devices to communicate with anyone from our cars, we can access a wealth of mapping data, directories, and fuel-consumption information. Not to mention the data about our cars’ engines that can be stored and analyzed. This data is making it easier for us to properly maintain our vehicles, as well as keeping us safer through applications such as automatic crash notification.

The system is designed to transform the car into a plug-and-play platform that can accept a wide variety of custom applications. These could take the form of open-source hardware or software modules, and according to the companies, the possibilities for applications are vast.

The idea is to create a personalized driving experience for users, where we could pick and choose which applications we want. There could even be the opportunity for drivers to rent applications for a certain period of time. For instance, a sports application that’s available just during a specific season. Drivers can continually customize their experience by adding or removing modules. Some other examples of possible applications include modules for environmental sensors, safety, or even entertainment.

Ford is the first automaker to collaborate with Bug Labs, and it will be interesting to see if other carmakers take this route of implementing custom applications. This is only the beginning of what connected devices and M2M brings to all of us.

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