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With Ford Sync, Michigan students bring downloadable apps to cars

With Ford Sync, Michigan students bring downloadable apps to cars

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Ford Motor Company has enlisted University of Michigan students to develop downloadable applications for its Sync in-car communications system, paving the way for your car to be as connected as your phone.

Ford Motor Company has enlisted University of Michigan-Dearborn students to develop downloadable applications for its Sync in-car communications system, paving the way for your car to be as connected as your phone.

In an attempt to bring smartphone-style mobile applications to a vehicle, Ford challenged six computer science students to modify popular apps in Apple's App Store to be controlled from a car or truck.

The goal: to bring an open-source mentality to the auto industry.

The problem? None of the open-source applications were appropriate for a vehicle. So the students built new applications from scratch to work with Sync and an automotive interface, which includes buttons, screens and voice commands.

The students built two applications: “SYNCcast,” which allows Internet radio streaming in the vehicle, and “FollowMe,” a GPS turn-by-turn navigation app that helps two or more friends follow a selected lead vehicle.

The success of the telematics pilot will lead to a planned 2010 release of the full open API to trusted developer partners.

“By embracing the open innovation community, we’re able to let creativity guide us,” said K. Venkatesh Prasad, technical leader for Infotronics, Ford research and advanced engineering, in a statement. “We can pursue the apps that lead to the most value for our customers and, since anything approved for SYNC will have to meet our telematics standards, we can help ensure safety and usability goals are met.”

Ford's attraction to a billion-dollar app industry marks a steady shift toward the "smart car" -- that is, connected to the Internet grid with the potential to replicate the experiences of a laptop, portable media player, phone or television.

The challenge: to make sure in-car Twitter use doesn't endanger folks on the road.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure