Issue: Aug 2013


Collaboration fuels innovation at Ford



by Ed Richardson

Ford’s decision to collaborate with “automotive outsiders” is paying off as the marketing and development of new products becomes increasingly data driven. Paul Mascarenas, Ford Chief Technical Officer and Vice President Ford Research and Innovation created the platform in 2011 at the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of Ford’s research hub in Dearborn, Michigan. He said “Traditional collaboration with automotive partners and suppliers may be what we are used to and comfortable with – and we want those ties to get even stronger – but it is also time to accelerate and embrace new forms of collaboration outside the automotive realm that will help us create not only better transportation, but a better world.” In January 2013 at the International CES the company launched the Ford Developer Program, which makes the SYNC® AppLink™ application programming interface (API) available for the creation of smartphone apps that can be controlled by voice inside the car. While AppLink is available in Ford vehicles now, OpenXC is focused on the future as an open-source hardware and software platform developed by Ford Research and Innovation to unleash the power of the open-source hacker community to explore what can be done with vehicle data.

The OpenXC kit includes a vehicle interface module based on the popular Arduino platform that developers can use to read data from the vehicle’s internal communications network, including real-time access to the vehicle sensors, GPS receiver and vehicle speed. The hardware module is connected to a Smartphone or tablet. “Through the OpenXC platform, we are paving the way for new opportunities that will help us prepare for the future of transportation where the automobile, mobile networks and the Internet cloud come together in ways never before imagined,” said Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader of Open Innovation for Ford Research and Innovation. Modern computing and communications systems are not only quickly changing consumer expectations in people’s everyday lives, but are driving innovation in the automotive industry at an incredible pace in preparation for the future. “Ford was founded on the innovative spirit of Henry Ford, and the opportunity today to reinvent the driving experience excites us just as it probably would have him. Technology is enabling Ford to bring a new level of awareness and intelligence that will dramatically enhance our customers’ time behind the wheel,” said Mascarenas when introducing the new Ford Fusion.

With more than 145 actuators, 4716 signals, and 74 sensors including radar, sonar, cameras, accelerometers, temperature and even rain sensors, the 2013 Fusion can monitor the perimeter around the car and see into places that are not readily visible from the driver’s seat. These sensors produce more than 25 gigabytes of data per hour, which is analyzed by more than 70 onboard computers. “So far we’ve just scratched the surface of what is possible,” said Mascarenas. “In the Fusion, we have sensors and actuators that act independently as part of the assist features. The next phase, currently in research, involves sensor fusion, where engineers learn how to more comprehensively characterize the environment by blending multiple signals, and add externally available information through cloud connectivity.”

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