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Ford and Bug Labs Invite Hackers to Do Their Thing

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#tcdisrupt San Francisco Design Center ConcourseIf you could create custom digital features for your car through hacking, what would they be? It’s something to think about, as Ford and Bug Labs, a New York City-based open-source hardware and software manufacturer, have teamed up and are inviting developers to create in-car connectivity features in a project called OpenXC. Developer kits will be available towards the end of the year and will allow would-be hackers to safely create applications that will enhance the driving experience but won’t compromise the critical systems and safety aspects in a car.

Ford announced the new aftermarket R&D platform on Monday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader of Infotronics at Ford Research and Innovation, said the program is a mashup of IT and auto technologies to allow developers, investors and users to co-create with manufacturers and producers.

OpenXC will make it possible for users to customize their vehicles with digital gadgets, add-ons like environmental sensors and safety devices, and visual and audio feedback interfaces by snapping Bug Labs’ hardware modules into vehicle consoles in a plug-and-play platform. Prasad said that while most innovations in automobiles are designed for millions of people, the Bug system allows aftermarket modifications to be designed for a market of very few people.

Peter Semmelhack, founder and CEO of Bug Labs, said a three-person team worked for six weeks and came up with three such applications. One is a system that lets drivers record and share their fuel efficiency in real time with other drivers in a heads-up windshield display. It uses an open-source hardware box that connects to the car’s internal systems via Bluetooth. Another application checks the driver into Foursquare and lets a driver know when friends are in the area. An audio road trip feature can also let the driver know about points of interest as he or she drives.

As Rip Empson writes on TechCrunch:

While Bug Labs has teamed with developers and enterprises like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Pitney Bows to design and test innovative devices, Ford is the first automotive OEM [original equipment manufacturer] to collaborate with Bug Labs.

Across the board, cars are getting smarter, and the opportunity for innovation in automotive connectivity continues to grow. Ford said that it hopes to use the OpenXC research project as a way to test new entertainment and connectivity solutions, and get a head start on the changing (and increasingly more technological) landscape, like fast-changing content preferences and “buy as you can” rental app solutions…

It’s nice to see a once-troubled automaker finding new ways to remain relevant and provide its drivers with all the benefits of the mind-melting technology being developed by young American startups and tech companies. Developers and engineers, definitely look out for this one.

Image by kawanet (Yusuke Kawasaki), used under its Creative Commons license.


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