Ford Joins Forces with Bug Labs on Connected Vehicles

Posted by at 3:07 pm on September 12, 2011

Ford has announced that it has partnered with Bug Labs to offer an open-source platform for connected vehicles. The project, which is referred to as OpenXC and based on the latter company’s Bug System technology, will enable developers and accessory makers to create new software and interchangeable hardware modules that can be added to upcoming vehicles.

Ford is the first automotive OEM to collaborate with Bug Labs, a company that Semmelhack founded in 2006 as a way for individuals and companies to break traditional barriers associated with new hardware development. Since then, Bug Labs has helped developers and enterprises such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T, Accenture, Pitney Bowes and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to conceive of, design, test and deploy innovative devices.

The car maker suggests the modular system will enable companies to create new audio and visual feedback interfaces, environmental sensors and safety devices, among other innovations. Accessories and apps can conceivably be built to target specific geographical areas and languages, or be provided on a rental basis.

“Imagine you live in India, own a Ford Figo and love the game of cricket,” said K. Venkatesh Presad, senior technical leader of Ford’s Infotronics R&D division. “Now imagine that you could purchase a $30 community cricket module from your local Ford dealer that was designed by a local developer and approved by Ford. This module plugs into a master control board in your car and your Figo would then play a community radio channel dedicated to cricket for the season. After the season is over, you could remove the module and replace it with something else.”

The companies are working to create development toolkits, including SDKs, along with an app store model for distribution.

While the OpenXC platform shows much potential for Ford in emerging markets where a low-cost value connectivity solution is vital, the concept is also giving Ford the freedom to explore other business models as well:

  • Distribution – The ability to sell or rent hardware and software modules through local dealerships and/or other aftermarket distribution channels
  • Developer Resources – Creating certified open innovation toolkits and SDKs for developers that make innovation, app development, payment and distribution more seamless
  • App Stores – Launching an app store model, where certified developers can offer up their Ford-approved innovations to consumers, who can buy them in a safe and fun environment

At the TechCrunch Disrupt gathering, the companies demonstrated prototype OpenXC accessories connected to the Ford Fiesta​. The preview included a Duel Economy Challenge app that works in conjunction with a Bluetooth-connected LED fuel efficiency display in the vehicle cockpit.

Ford has yet to announce pricing details or a launch time-frame for the OpenXC system

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