Ford is planning to open its Sync in-car computing platform to third party app developers, the automaker tells FastCompany.com.
The idea is still nascent and there is no hard-and-fast timeline for release, says Prasad Venkatesh, who leads Vehicle Design & Infotainment at Ford. Just how drivers would use in-car apps is still being researched as well. (Below, a present-day Sync system in a Ford Mustang.)
"The way we're developing the toolkit, you could sit in the comfort of your home and plan a roadtrip," he says. Using a smartphone or computer, you'd then add points of interest or other plans. "At the click of a button, the cloud would make all that available to you in the car, and it would broadcast it to your social networking groups." Future Ford vehicles may include mobile broadband, he says; current Sync systems pair with a driver's mobile phone to download updates.
Ford first hinted they might open up the Sync platform to developers at CES in January 2009, but has been researching the idea since November of 2007, said Venkatesh. The company has been experimenting with building its own apps, like the voice-activated Traffic, Directions and Information (or TDI) app that it made available to 2010 Ford owners in May.
The apps will work on a new a new open-source in-car OS Ford is developing for its Sync system, which has been available in cars since model year 2008. That open-source layer will be built on top of Microsoft's Robotics suite.
Ford is seeding the platform by partnering with universities and other developers. The first collaboration: a competition for student app developers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Students will be encouraged to build cloud-connected apps in almost any computing language they want: Java, C, C++, and so on; Ford hasn't decided what kind of language it will ultimately use for its apps. Winning student ideas will be sent along to the Ford labs, where they'll be looked at for implementation. As a prize, the students will get to present their app at the Maker Faire Convention.
Venkatesh says Ford doesn't know whether they will pursue an app store model ala Apple, and no firm plans have been made about monetization. The potential is there, however; he says he is encouraging the students at UM to pursue their apps with an entrepreneurial mindset.