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Ford, Bug Labs team up on fuel efficiency data module for cars

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At TechCrunch Disrupt 2011, Ford and Bug Labs unveiled an in-car open source research platform that allows developers to write software for anything, from fuel efficiency meters to location-based entertainment.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ford is making its vehicles even more socially-connected with the help of New York City-based startup Bug Labs.

Speaking during TechCrunch Disrupt 2011 on Monday morning, Bug Labs founder and CEO Peter Semmelhack introduced OpenXC, an in-car research platform that is based upon Bug Labs' own open-source software and hardware.

The idea behind OpenXC, Semmelhack explained, is to take tool kits in order to enable developers to modify the automobile and stage the experience for the future. To clarify, the "X" stands for anything, and the "C" stands for connectivity.

Basically, OpenXC intends to transform the car into a plug-and-play platform using a module that pairs up a computer with the vehicle via Bluetooth. The platform enhances Ford's Sync technology and will be used for future Ford products.

For reference, there are about three million cars today running with Ford's Sync technology. Connectivity in cars at all price levels is a big priority for Ford as the motor company predicts that hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide will buy a vehicle by 2020.

Semmelhack described OpenXC as a "sandbox," positing that the platform is a budget-friendly way for developers to experiment any idea or concept regarding in-car connectivity and data sharing. The benefit for Ford is that this development model frees it up from having to build and deploy lower-volume apps in smaller markets and relay its resources elsewhere.

Some examples include automatic check-ins at favorite places using Foursquare or alerting friends when you might be driving through the neighborhood. (Of course, that depends on how much the driver really wants to share about his or her schedule.)

Semmelhack also demonstrated the prototype Fuel Economy Challenge application developed in partnership with Ford, which uses the cloud-based BUGswarm app to aggregate data regarding fuel efficiency and about how someone is driving. Thus, drivers can get real-time access and share these performance stats to see who is driving the most efficiently.

Rachel King

Rachel King is a staff writer for ZDNet. Previously she worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in San Francisco.