Ford taps students for in-car software

In a University of Michigan research course, students create future in-car apps, with the winner enabling a group of cars to track each other along their journey.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

A group of students at the University of Michigan may have given us a glimpse at the next generation of in-car software.

Six teams of students at the Ann Arbor, Mich., university recently developed a series of applications designed to help drivers traveling in a convoy, looking for improved fuel economy, connecting with car-pool passengers, and other activities. Offered as a 12-week research course called "Cloud Computing in the Commute," the class project forced students to think beyond today's GPS software by creating cloud-based apps to assist people behind the wheel.

Students were encouraged to incorporate Internet access, social networks, GPS tracking, and real-time car data to build their potential applications of the future. A group of judges from U-M, Microsoft, and Ford reviewed the contributions of the six student teams for both relevancy and usability.

The winning app: Caravan Track. Designed to help a group of cars all on the same journey, Caravan Track lets drivers track the other cars in their group, view each other's fuel level and speed, map routes, and send text alerts to each other about traffic and road conditions.

As the winner, Caravan Track will be outfitted in a Ford Fiesta research vehicle as it takes a socially networked test drive from Ann Arbor on May 14 to the Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif., on May 22.

Other apps designed by the students included GreenRide Challenge, software that uses Facebook to connect drivers interested in carpooling; NostraMap, which collects information about road and traffic hazards to give drivers advanced warning; and Points-of-Interest, an app that directs drivers toward businesses, stores, and other locations based on their own interests.

The students created their in-car apps using the playfully dubbed "Fiestaware," a software development platform that runs under Windows 7 and Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio. Fiestaware lets developers access networking services, in-car performance data, voice recognition, and social networking utilities.

Ford and Microsoft have been partnering on in-car computing technology for a number of years.

The "Cloud Computing in the Commute" course was co-taught by Brian Noble, associate professor in computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, and Jason Flinn, a computer science and engineering associate professor.

"This was an incredible opportunity for our students to work closely with an industrial partner on the leading edge of a growing trend," Noble said in a statement. "It's been a powerful experience showing these kids that there are really cool, high-tech problems waiting to be solved right here in Michigan."

Launched by Ford Research & Advanced Engineering, the course was part of a larger initiative by Ford called American Journey 2.0, a research project that includes Microsoft and Intel and gives students a chance to work with future in-car systems.