Ford’s voice-activated Sync system has been a hit with consumers with over 2 million systems sold since it debuted in 2007, proving consumers want to be connected in their cars. To see ideas of where people, specifically a younger generation, think in-car connectivity will go, Ford initiated a class at the University of Michigan where students developed in-car apps. The winner allows groups of vehicles traveling together to view real time data from the other cars.
Called “Caravan Track,” the winning application from the “Cloud Computing in the Commute” class lets drivers traveling together form both a physical and a virtual caravan. The app allows clusters of vehicles traveling together to link the cars virtually in order to sync the route and track each other along the way. Everyone in the caravan can then see real time telemetry from the other vehicles including speed, fuel level, and position. App users can also go to a Web site to set their route and then view other travelers on the same route from the car. The software also allows users to send alerts about stops along the way, road conditions, and hazards. All of these features can be accessed through several interfaces so the driver doesn’t have to take his hands off the wheel.
“Caravan Track” is one of six apps that were developed in the course. As the winner, the application will be installed on a group of research vehicles that will then make a road trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to San Mateo, California, for Maker Faire. Maker Faire is the world’s largest do-it-yourself ideas festival in Silicon Valley. The vehicles will leave Ann Arbor on May 14 and arrive in California before the festival kicks off on May 22.
The idea behind the class was to showcase the power of cloud computing and social networking responsibly while commuting. Using cloud computing — running software and services over the Internet rather than from a physical storage device in the computer — Ford plans to enhance “the great American road trip.” With apps such as Caravan Track, Ford will make road trips interactive with fellow travelers rather than simply with the people you left home with. By collaborating with others, including the students at the University of Michigan, Ford can gain a better idea of where in-car connectivity should go next.
“Already with Sync, we have proven that we can access information in the cloud,” said Venkatesh Prasad, group and technical leader of Ford’s research and advanced engineering infotronics team. “This project gives us the opportunity to harness the power of student innovation to explore beyond current capabilities and develop what’s next.”