Ford invites hackers to use Los Angeles city data

In what it bills the first developer conference hosted by an automaker during CTIA Super Mobility Week, Ford will run a hackathon where developers can build apps using data sets supplied by Los Angeles.

2015 Ford Fiesta Ecoboost
Ford's Sync AppLink platform integrates apps running on a smartphone with the car's voice command system. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

At what it bills as the auto industry's first app developer conference, Ford will sponsor a hackathon for its Sync AppLink platform. In a unique twist, the city of Los Angeles has gathered data sets for the developers covering statistics such as airport traffic, collisions, and crime. Ford's developer conference is part of the Connected Car Expo at CTIA's Super Mobility Week running from September 8 to 11 in Las Vegas.

The Sync AppLink platform integrates apps running on a phone with car controls such as voice command and hard buttons on the dashboard. Currently, Sync AppLink supports over 30 apps, from NPR to Rhapsody to the Wall Street Journal.

The conference will educate and encourage developers to add Sync AppLink compatibility to their existing apps, or build completely new apps.

The hackathon will run in stages, with initial development occurring from September 8 and 9. From that scrum, 50 developer teams will be invited to participate in the Connected Car-Connected City App Pursuit, from September 9 through 11, with presentations scheduled for the last day.

From the Pursuit group, 10 finalists will be invited present their apps at the Connected Car Expo on November 18 to 20, just before the Los Angeles auto show, and a winner will be chosen.

The inclusion of city data suggests a new realm for mobile apps. Developers could use city crime and collision data in a navigation app to plot the safest routes around town, for example.

Ford was early on the scene with app integration for its cars, but now the company finds itself with plenty of competition. During CES this year, GM announced its App Shop, and invited developers to build apps for its new infotainment system. Toyota and BMW both integrate app services through their own smartphone apps.

However, the biggest threat to individual automakers app integration attempts will be Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both systems for integrating smartphone functionality with the car. Implementations of CarPlay are expected in aftermarket head units soon, while the first car with CarPlay should be available by the end of the year.

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