Ford’s revelation this week that it would open up its Sync Applink connected car platform to third-party developers was apparently just the beginning of its plans to evolve its vehicles. On Thursday, Ford announced it is taking its OpenXC open-source hardware program out of beta, making the deepest inner workings of the car open to engineers who want to design apps and even modular hardware components for the future automobiles.
OpenXC is a joint project between Ford and open-source hardware developer Bug Labs to bridge the gap between the highly specialized and proprietary world of automotive computing and the world of open development. As part of that collaboration, Bug Labs demonstrated it could design new aftermarket hardware components like a solar-powered heads-up display that could be easily installed and yet integrate seamlessly into the car’s communications network.
But the primary goal of the project was to create is a vehicle interface module based on the open-source hardware platform Arduino It plugs into car’s internal communications network and gains real-time access to vehicle performance data like speed, acceleration and braking as well as vehicle sensor data. The module then translates that information into a format an Android smartphone or tablet can decipher. Developer are then free to build smartphone apps that can read the vehicle data or use the interface as the basis for a new hardware that integrates directly into the car.
“Ford is committed to innovating with the help of software and now hardware developers,” Ford VP and CTO Paul Mascarenas said 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.”
While there are some similarities between OpenXC and the new Ford Developer Program, it’s easiest to think about the former as an R&D platform for future technology and the Sync program as a commercial platform over which apps can be designed and distributed to millions of cars today. While Sync is primarily an infotainment platform – apps can play music, access Sync’s voice command system and use the in-vehicle displays, but they can’t figure out how fast your going or whether a semi is bearing down on your bumper.