Ford Teams Up with U of M for a Cloud Connected Road Trip to Maker Faire

Posted by at 2:44 pm on May 12, 2010

There are many reasons why Ford has been doing well lately, a major one is that Ford knows your car needs to be part of your whole life. That means your auto needs to be connected to your electronic gadgets and the rest of your connected life. Today Ford proves again that “They get it!”

Earlier today at Ford’s Corporate Campus, Ford executives and students from the University of Michigan unveiled two Ford Fiesta cars that have been equipped with customized applications. Tomorrow those two Fiestas will leave the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for a week long road trip to Maker Faire in Silicon Valley.

“We believe this is the first time vehicles will be socially connected through the Internet during a cross-country trip,” said TJ Giuli, Ford research engineer. “All the apps -“ from Caravan Track to the Virtual Road Rally, and particularly the notion of the car automatically posting its mood and location -“ really explore new boundaries in the use of digital tools to expand social links.”

The road trip will signal the culmination of a yearlong Ford initiative called American Journey 2.0, a joint open innovation research project offering a group of U-M students a chance to define the future in-car experience.

The Two Fiestas

Ford Car, Nckname AJ

With the first Fiesta, Ford engineers T.J. Giuli, Joe Rork, Joe Ross and Tom Alexander will be demonstrating three experimental apps, known as Virtual Road Rally, “Auto”matic Blog and Local Search, engineered by the Ford Research & Advanced Engineering (R&AE) and IT teams.

U of M Car

In the second Fiesta, three students from U-M will be using Caravan Track, an app they developed as part of a 12-week course called Cloud Computing in the Commute. Ford initiated the course to challenge students to develop social networking personal transportation apps. Caravan Track was judged the most compelling, out of six creative apps presented at the conclusion of the course, winning the students a trip to California with Ford engineers.

The Apps

The Ford team will be using three apps developed within the company’s connected vehicle labs.

Virtual Road Rally – This app allows users to define points-of-interest (POIs) or physical goals and landmarks, similar to those found in a rally race. The app can take the form of a “treasure hunt,” revealing information about various POIs as drivers reach them. It can also serve as a competitive drive app, allowing users to post various parameters for a specific drive.

“Auto”matic Blog – The car, known as @AJtheFiesta, automatically blogs or tweets its mood based on vehicle data sensors and conditions it encounters on the road. AJ will also be able to indicate location via GPS and take photos to show other drivers the conditions that trigger its opinions.

“For example, if one assumes that a happy car is one that’s zipping along an open road or negotiating tight curves,” explains Giuli, “the powertrain sensors -“ engine rpm, speed, steering inputs, g-loads, that sort of thing -“ can indicate to the car that it’s in one of those fun situations, and the car can then indicate that with a tweet or blog post. Similarly, if it’s at zero mph with the wipers on, the car might decide it’s sitting in traffic in the rain and send a sad tweet. Either way, we wanted to allow the car to become a blogger.”

Local Search – This app, with a built-in social media component, can communicate with networking site Foursquare. Each time the vehicle makes a stop, it will check in with Foursquare to identify its location, and it can also search for nearby restaurants, gas stations and parks.

Caravan Track – This app, developed by U-M students, allows clusters of vehicles traveling together to track each other along the journey using vehicle telemetry, mapping and text-to-voice notifications. Information about road conditions and hazards is sent via multiple-choice interface that eliminates the need to type.

Ford is using the road trip to connect to young Millennials by having university stops.  Besides the starting point of the University of Michigan; there will be stops at Northwestern University, Colorado University, and Stanford University. Ford believes Millennials will be a major demographic  when it comes to buyers of Fiesta.

The other major audience is the app developer interested in the future of software development and mobile platforms which they will be many of at the Maker Faire in San Mateo.

“The challenges faced by the students are representative of what the new era of developers will face as they begin programming the Internet-on-wheels, and what a new generation of customers will want from this technology,” said Prasad. “We are creating tools for this new generation and we are learning as much as we can, while adapting to seeing things through the eyes of up-and-coming programmers.”

Once at the Maker Faire, the U-M students and Ford engineers will share their work with the attendees.

You can follow the trip via Twitter at @AJtheFiesta or at

Ford Building their Brand and their Future

Since CES Ford has been working hard to to reach out to tech world. Examples range from working with college engineering programs, expanding the Sync system, to joining forces with Microsoft on the Hohm program.

Ford will be using Hohm energy management system as an application for Ford’s electric vehicles. Ford is the first automaker announcing the use of Hohm, starting with the Focus Electric next year. Hohm will help owners determine when and how to most efficiently and affordably recharge battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV).

“The car is the ultimate mobile device,” claims Venkatesh Prasad, group and technical leader of the Infotronics team in Ford Research & Advanced Engineering. “Ford has led the convergence of the auto and consumer electronics industries, and now we’re researching how to responsibly and safely harness the Internet to enhance drivers’ time behind the wheel.”

Now for some of us who are a little older than 20, having a car be your twitter friend is a big change. I just hope my F150 doesn’t get upset with me since I just started to follow “AJ the Fiesta.” I don’t need a yellow light coming on. But at the same time I would not mind my next car to tweet me , if there is a problem when I am away from it. For those of  who use Foursquare it might be hard to lose a mayorship to a Ford car or truck. At the same time I wonder if Ford will have any custom badges if you do a check-in where one of these cars are parked. Today Ford is a tech company that happens to make autos.

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