While engineering students at the University of Michigan were figuring out how to turn the Ford Fiesta into a rolling iPad, engineers from Ford's infortronics research group were doing the same thing. On Thursday, those engineers and students will set out from Dearborn on a road trip in separate though equally wired (wireless?) Fiestas to San Mateo, CA for the Maker Faire. The Ford engineers will be driving a green Fiesta they've dubbed AJ for American Journey 2.0.
AJ has a trunk full of computer gear including a router and two different mobile broadband modems to keep it connected. The Ford car will have three in-house developed applications in addition to a caravan tracker application developed by the UM students. Ford has launched a web-site at AmericanJourney2 where people can follow the trip and participate as the two Fiestas make their way across the country. Read on to learn more about Ford's effort to connect this Fiesta to the Internet.
The Ford engineers have implemented three applications into AJ. The first is the virtual road rally. Users on the AmericanJourney2.com site can go to the Road Rally section and enter suggestions for places that the team should visit along their trip route. Users can enter eateries, museums or other points of interest with or without a specific route. The points of interest will show up on the screen in the vehicle.
The second application is the "Auto"matic blog that enables the car to automatically post updates to Facebook, Twitter or the trip blog. The Fiesta is equipped with three cameras including one facing out the back window taking a photo every four seconds. Those photos are automatically uploaded and compiled into a time lapse video that will track the route in reverse.
The system is also programmed to determine the car's mood based on a series of rules and the driving conditions. The application has access to all of the vehicle data so that if it detects that the car is constantly starting and stopping in traffic it will set its mood to sad. If on the system detects a drive down a twisty country road, the mood will be happy. The application also has Skype built in so that visitors to the site can call the car and chat with the drivers.
The final Ford-developed application is local search. The Fiesta can automatically check in with Foursquare based on its GPS data and then display the location of other Foursquare users, restaurants, gas stations and parks on the vehicle map. Finally, the Fiesta has the aforementioned Caravan Tracker application that was developed by University of Michigan students.
All of these apps will be talking to the cloud through one of two wireless broadband modems. While the car is in the Chicago area, it will also be using one of those brand-spanking new Sprint 4G Wimax modems. The rest of the time it will rely on a slower 3G EVDO modem. Powering all of this is a 2.6 GHz PC with an 80GB solid state hard drive.
How useful is any of this? That remains to be seen. Some aspects of the technology could certainly be put to good use. Being able to access up-to-date points of interest and recommendations rather than relying on whatever was programmed into the vehicle when it was built is definitely a step in the right direction. Of course, much of this is being built into the latest smart phones, so it hardly seems necessary to replicate it in a car. Perhaps what we really need is a standard interface to just plug in our phones and display the phone apps on the larger screen in the car.
- Ford's American Journey 2.0 research project concludes with first-ever social media-connected road trip from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif.; Ford engineers, University of Michigan (U-M) students demonstrate first-ever auto-centric cloud-based apps
- Ford-developed apps include "Auto"matic Blog, which will allow the car, known as "@AJtheFiesta," to periodically tweet its interpretation of the journey based on vehicle telemetrics; another app will automatically check-in the team via Foursquare at stops and points-of-interest
- The road trip involves stops at three major universities; each serves as part of a larger Ford effort to excite potential customers while showing tangible proof of the company's commitment to leading the convergence of the automobile and Internet through open innovation
ANN ARBOR, Mich., May 12, 2010 – Two Ford Fiestas will leave the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on May 13, and though the cars may be separate, they will be linked to each other and to the entire global community in ways that mark a new era in mobile connectivity.
Embarking upon a week-long road trip to Maker Faire, Silicon Valley's annual ideas festival, the Fiestas and their occupants will be serving as messengers from Ford announcing the arrival of the car as a technology platform.
"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."
In one 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, developed by the Ford Research & Advanced Engineering and IT teams and built on top of an experimental Windows 7 and Microsoft Robotics application platform.
In the second Fiesta, U-M computer science students Collin Hockey, John Ciccone and Joe Phillips and School of Information student Sangmi Park 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.
"We believe this is the first time vehicles will be socially connected through the Internet during a cross-country trip," said 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, supported by Microsoft and Intel, offering a group of U-M students a chance to define the future in-car experience.
About the Ford apps
The Ford team will be using three apps developed within the company's connected vehicle labs.
Virtual Road Rally allows users to define points-of-interest (POIs) or physical landmarks, similar to those found in a road rally. 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. For example, a user could post the amount of fuel they used driving from A to B, and challengers would attempt to best that mileage. The app uses a Web-based component to allow users to upload rally points and challenge parameters, as well as post their individual results.
Road Rally users could also create rallies focusing on their own towns, allowing drivers who may never have visited a particular place to learn more about landmarks and POIs. Such a feature would let drivers share their favorite drives and provide small towns and "off the beaten path" locations a new way to attract visitors to unique places.
"Auto"matic Blog attempts to elevate the car to its rightful standing as an equal member of the team, providing it with a personality and way to communicate its mood. The car itself, dubbed @AJtheFiesta, will automatically blog or tweet statements about the journey based on information it gathers from various vehicle data sensors or engine computer codes.
"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."
AJ will also be able to indicate via GPS trace the roads on which it's driving when it feels certain ways, and the system will also allow it to take a photo to show other drivers – and perhaps, someday, other cars – the conditions that trigger its opinions.
Local Search uses a built-in social media component via the social networking app Foursquare. Each time the vehicle makes a stop, it will check in with Foursquare to identify the location, and it can also search for nearby restaurants, gas stations and parks.
Technology meets tradition
The Ford connected road trip is an outreach to two key demographics who will help shape
the future of Ford vehicles: Fiesta buyers, largely expected to be connected young Millennials like the U-M students and the crowds expected to greet them during their university stops; and budding app developers interested in the future of software development and mobile platforms.
At the same time, the journey hopes to harness the power of social networks and cloud computing to introduce a new twist to the great American road trip.
"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."
A project like American Journey 2.0, involving teamwork with university students followed by hands-on testing, represents a significant developmental shift for Ford. The company is actively looking toward innovation hubs like universities and Silicon Valley to learn the best ways to deliver relevant and personalized content tailored for the individual driver's unique
"These collaborations are also valuable to Ford and our development ecosystem in the long term," added Prasad. "If we're going to lead in shaping tomorrow's world-on-wheels, we need a top talent pool from which to draw, and we need to be a catalyst to the entire value chain."
At the road trip's final destination, Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif., May 22, the U-M students and Ford engineers will have the chance to share their work with global leaders in technology development.
"Maker Faire is where technology enthusiasts gather to see new projects and I know they'll be excited to think about the car as a technology platform and the new applications that can be built" said Dale Dougherty, editor and publisher of MAKE Magazine and founder of Maker Faire.
"This event is demonstrating that we at Ford do not view cars and trucks as just vehicles but as platforms for development," Giuli said. "Whether someone at Maker Faire is a car enthusiast or a techie or a programmer, we're inviting them to come interact with the vehicle and help us shape the future."