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Ford unveils OpenXC, invites open-source applications

At TechCrunch Disrupt, the automaker and partner Bug Labs announces a new system that will allow developers to create open-source hardware and software applications.

As part of its OpenXC announcement, Ford and Bug Labs showed off the Fuel Efficiency Challenge, which allows drivers of Ford Sync-enabled cars to share their fuel efficiency with others.
Daniel Terdiman/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--Ford wants developers to create a broad array of connectivity applications that can be used in conjunction with its cars, and it launched its OpenXC platform Monday to promote that effort.

In an announcement at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference here, Ford and its partner Bug Labs unveiled OpenXC, a platform designed to allow third-party developers to create any number of open-source hardware or software products that will interact with Ford's Sync system.

The idea, said K. Venkatesh Prasad, the senior technical leader of Infotronics at Ford Research and Innovation, is to make it possible for outside developers to design new ways to extend the usefulness of the Sync system, which today is installed in more than 3 million Ford vehicles.

Essentially, Bug Labs CEO Peter Semmelhack suggested on stage at Disrupt, OpenXC is a plug-and-play system that will bring the power of Sync application development to anyone. Ford will soon be making development kits publicly available.

As an example, Semmelhack pointed to a system that can let anyone record and share their fuel efficiency with others in real time. Using an open-source hardware box that connects via Bluetooth to the car's internal systems, the device can create a heads-up display on the windshield that shows drivers their fuel efficiency, and can also send out that information over a 3G network, making it available to others with the same device.

Prasad pointed to another possible use of the system, an open-source software application that checks the driver into Foursquare upon arrival, or an "audio road trip" feature that automatically reads out information about points of interest as the car drives by.

Ford did not say whether applications created using OpenXC would need to be vetted, but one assumes that because of safety requirements, developers will have to submit their creations to the company for approval.