Ford Launches OpenXC, Taking Car Tinkering High Tech

imagesMaybe it’s Silicon Valley, yet it’s more likely the increasingly complex nature of car mechanics, but no one tinkers with their cars anymore in the old school, hood open, car on short risers, greasy rags kind of way. Those who do tinker like that are likely working on older cars, maybe as a hobby, instead of working on the family minivan. What was part of the background landscape of our generation’s childhood, is mostly gone. Although it turns out it’s not really gone, but it’s been moved out of the garage. Instead of a greasy rag, it’s a wireless mouse as car tinkering goes high tech.

Ford has introduced OpenXC, an open source hardware and software kit that encourages tinkering by developers. With cars becoming highly computerized, they hold a great deal of information inside of them, and the OpenXC program allows those metrics to be accessed. Once accessed, vehicle usage information can be used to develop wildly imaginative apps. Windshield wipers are one example of having a great deal of information. Who would have thought, right? The speed of the windshield wipers can communicate weather changes ahead to other drivers, meteorologists, traffic programs, etc. As a parent, I cannot wait to see someone develop an app that will give me real time info about my child’s driving. Say one of my kids is driving around at night with friends, I could get a ping on my phone alerting me of crazy high speed or a high rate of steering wheel movements to the left (as we called it growing up: doing donuts).  The ideas on how to use these metrics are endless.

While information is taken from the car, it cannot be sent back, which means if I get a ping that my kid is driving 100 mph, I can’t override that and slow the car. Darn.

Ford is taking an intriguing new direction with OpenXC. This was exactly the innovative type of project hoped for when the Ford Silicon Valley Lab opened last year.

Developers interested in learning more are invited to attend OpenXC workshops, beginning with the first in San Francisco this month, and two others in the Bay Area later this year. The OpenXC workshop line up looks like this:

  • San Francisco: June 21-22
  • Austin, TX: July 19-20
  • San Jose: Aug. 16-17
  • Pittsburgh, PA: Sept. 13-14
  • Menlo Park: Nov. 9-10
  • Chandler, AZ: Dec. 13-14

To encourage creativity, Ford has issued a challenge to developers: create an app to improve fuel efficiency. Software developers are challenged to develop an app using OpenXC vehicle data including speed, GPS coordinates, and fuel consumption to educate and motivate drivers to improve their personal vehicle fuel usage. Even if not a developer, ideas can be submitted for developers to use. The deadline is July 24, and a team of judges will evaluate the submissions and award cash prizes, totaling $50,ooo.


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