Editors' note: Ford has clarified that its open platform is still in the prealpha testing stages. The article has been updated to reflect this information.
When Ford and Microsoft opened up their joint Sync platform for its own applications and updates, we wondered when the day would come that third-party developers would be given a crack at the in-vehicle infomatics interface. Well, that day may be on the horizon. Ford announced that it is testing an open-source platform to could be used in the future to develop applications that make use of Sync to connect to social networks in the cloud.
Ford's representatives said the system is built on a Robotics Studio platform by Microsoft that has been layered with an open-source cloud-computing platform developed by Ford that will allow rich--and hopefully seamless--interactions with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
So what's the point? How can social network interactions be useful and safe in 2,000-plus pounds of steel moving at 70mph? Ford's Venkatesh Prasad, group and technical leader of vehicle design and infotainment, posed the following scenarios:
Imagine you're on a cross-country road trip and you decide to stop in a new city for something to eat. Now, you don't know this new city very well, so you ask Sync to grab some dining and sightseeing suggestions. The application could then fire out a tweet, update your Facebook status, or query Yelp on your behalf and when the responses roll in, it could format them in an easy to understand way, for example as a custom points-of-interest menu.
Another possible application is a Green Car Challenge, where you compete with your friends to see who can average the highest fuel economy while suggesting the greenest driving routes to one another.
This all sounds pretty cool on paper; we'll have to wait a bit longer to know exactly how effective these apps will actually be. We expect that it will really depend on the size, make up, and responsiveness of your social network. I shudder to think of all of the Twitter-bots that currently follow me supplying any sort of advice.
The first test of Ford's open-application SDK will be in conjunction with a competition at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Students will compete to develop the best Sync application that makes use of the cloud. The winning team will have their app installed in Ford's first test mule, a Ford Fiesta, and will take a road trip from Ann Arbor to San Francisco to participate in the 2010 San Mateo Maker's Faire.
Ford currently has no road map for when we can expect to see the Sync open platform in production vehicles, as it is still in the prealpha testing phases.