Ford is pushing forward in the evolution of the connected car with the unveiling of OpenXC, a research platform which aims to turn your car into a plug-and-play device.
Ford is gung-ho for connectivity and seems determined to pack as much technology into its cars as possible. It believes connectivity and in-car tech like Sync can make us better, safer drivers while increasing the practicality and usefulness of our time behind the wheel.
Open XC, announced Monday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, rests on collaboration with open-source hardware makers Bug Labs. Using a dashboard-mounted device, Ford’s cars could essentially become docking stations for user-selected hardware and software modules (seen above in prototype form) that can be plugged in to the car. The OpenXC research program will provide developers with tool kits to create applications specifically for use in the car, which are then stored on the different modules.
“We’re actually modularizing the app,” said Ford research senior technical leader K. Venkatesh Prasad in an interview.
In the same vein as Apple, Ford hopes the OpenXC program will entice developers to create apps which could eventually be sold through a Ford-backed app storefront.
“The potential for monetization is definitely on the horizon,” Prasad said.
Opening up your software platform to outside developers is becoming a fast-growing technique in the automotive industry. Toyota introduced its EnTune platform earlier this year, allowing developers to create smartphone apps tailor-made to work with your car. Of course, EnTune came long after Ford pushed into the space with its Sync smartphone-app integration platform in 2007.
Though calling these platforms truly “open” isn’t entirely accurate; Ford will vet application submissions for safety purposes, mostly to keep out apps that require unsafe practices (like fumbling with your smartphone while going 55).
“Apple did something really smart,” said Bug Labs CEO Peter Semmelhack said in an interview. “Millions of people bought the iPhone for what it was — a phone. Then Apple turned that around and offered developers a chance to sell apps to those customers.”
As Apple has proved, when there are developers willing to provide content to your platform, there’s money to be made. Apple currently hosts nearly half a million applications at its App Store, a large incentive for smartphone shoppers to buy their hardware from the company. At the same time, Apple takes a 30 percent cut of all applications sold, gaining revenue from products they don’t have to spend R&D resources in order to produce.
Don’t expect to pay through the nose for the modules, either. Ford is aiming for the low end on pricing, somewhere in the range of $20 or $30. Further, the company may end up launching the modules as rentals, potentially distributed through local dealerships or other aftermarket distribution centers like Car Toys. Sort of like RedBox, but for car apps.
Prasad says Ford plans to cooperate with at least six different universities for further module development before a full launch, and expects the software toolkits to be available for distribution to independent developers by the end of this year.