If you envision an open future, sustainable development through community contribution seems to be the way out. With open platforms both across hardware and software freely interacting with each other, car makers are finding a viable way to improvise the already developing intelligence of the cars.
Ford (and other automakers) envision future cars with high tech infotainment systems galore where car dashboards could have downloadable app’s just like todays smart phones and tablets. With the OpenXC platform Ford is creating a channel for open collaboration with 3rd party application developers, allowing them to use cars like the Ford Focus to prototype their gizmos.
The OpenXC platform is an open source hardware and software stack which allows 3rd parties to connect self-created gadgets to an OpenXC-compliant car.
If “your car is as easy to program as your smartphone,” it stands to reason that future cars could generate as much innovation and excitement as todays smartphones are generating.
The company announced last week they were making the OpenXC source code available, in beta form, to developers and universities around the world. Ford demonstrated a sample third-party mobile app created with the OpenXC toolkit at NASSCOM India Leadership Summit, held last week in Mumbai India.
The OpenXC platform is being developed in collaboration with Bug Labs, a New York based developer of small computer hardware building blocks meant to help organizations build the “Internet of Things.” This concept looks toward a day if/when all objects will have embedded computerization, with ubiquitous connections to the Internet to share data and information enabling large scale applications to be built upon the data coming from all the connected gizmos.
The documentation on the OpenXC Platform website describes installing small hardware module, attaching it to the OBD-II port so the module can read CANBUS messages. The hardware module interfaces the OBD-II/CAN bus to the more common USB interface, and sends data from the car to the software running on the OpenXC software platform. The software part of the OpenXC platform runs on Arduino or Android platforms, and provides to software measurements of vehicle operation such as brake pedal status, engine speed, latitude and longitude, steering wheel angle, and vehicle speed. The documentation does not provide methods for the software application to send commands to the car, only to receive data from the car.
This is unlikely to result in consumer applications right away, if only because interfacing to the OBD-II port is not exactly a user-friendly experience. Ford is positioning this as an outreach to application developers. Ford asks us to ponder these sorts of questions: What if “user-facing hardware and software” (such as the dashboard) was based on open software stacks, where car owners could purchase and install add-ons as easily as they buy smart phone apps today? What if the infotainment systems were easily user upgradeable? What if you could transfer a high tech gizmo easily from car-to-car?