In-car apps have been a bit of a buzzword for some time, but Ford is in pedal-to-the-metal mode since launching its Sync technology last month. The system allows for all sorts of four-wheel fun and japes, including voice control. The next step: cloud-based apps. Six teams of students from the "Cloud Computing in the Commute" program at the University of Michigan have each developed an app as part of a contest run by Ford's Research and Advanced Engineering program.
The winner, Caravan Track, was designed for friends undertaking the same journey at the same time—Spring Break ahoy! After setting a route via the Web, drivers can share vehicle telemetry like fuel level and speed, keep an eye on their fellow drivers, and send notifications about road conditions and hazards via a multiple-choice interface (no need for a keyboard or typing).
There's a bit of social networking built into all of the apps, which use Ford's Windows 7-based software platform, Fiestaware, along with the usual petrolhead stuff like GPS location awareness and real-time vehicle data. The other designs included Fuel Tracker, NostraMap, and Points-of-Interest, but it's the social media-based apps that are the most interesting. The GreenRide Challenge puts carpools together via Facebook, even allowing for a potential sponsorship deal whereby drivers who accrue points can benefit from a rewards system (free wiper blades, anyone?), and the Listen. Speak. Rate. Share. app, which sounds like a cross between TomTom and foursquare or Gowalla, lets users review locations via sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and the ubiquitous Facebook.
There is no doubting the fact that the rate of in-car infotainment systems are improving almost as fast as Jenson Button can get round the Monaco streets, but all of this is dependent on the state of the mobile broadband network. These cloud-based apps will need a reliable 3G network—which is probably great when you're in the middle of a heaving metropolis, but not so cool if you're somewhere remote.
The Caravan Tracker dudes earned their prize, a two-week-long road trip from Michigan to San Mateo in California, where they're going to test out their app en route, before showing it off to the public at the Maker Faire.