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Ford takes OpenXC research platform global, engaging local developers for market-specific connected vehicle apps in India

OpenXC architecture. Click to enlarge.

Ford is now shipping beta test kits of its open-source connectivity research platform, OpenXC (earlier post), to developers and universities around the world. At the NASSCOM India Leadership Summit, Ford is demonstrating the OpenXC research platform and the potential of open-source application development for the automobile with the first third-party mobile app created with the OpenXC toolkit. NASSCOM is the industry association for the IT-BPO (business process outsourcing) sector in India.

OpenXC is an open-source hardware and software platform developed by Ford Research and Innovation and New York City-based Bug Labs. The OpenXC architecture is divided into two halves: a CAN translation module and a host device.

  • The CAN translation module is a microcontroller with two connections: one to the CAN bus via the OBD-II port, and one to the host device via USB. It listens for a subset of CAN messages, performs required unit conversion or factoring and outputs a generic version to the USB interface.

    The current implementation uses the Digilent chipKIT Max32, an Arduino-compatible microcontroller based on PIC32 instead of ATmega. The network shield add-on gives the chipKIT two CAN transceivers, which is enough to enable most OpenXC applications. Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform.

    The hardware module provides real-time access to parameters such as the vehicle sensors, GPS receiver and vehicle speed that can be read by apps while keeping everything isolated from the vehicle control systems.

  • The host device is where all user code runs—it reads vehicle data over USB from the CAN translation module and makes it available to developers in a programmatic way. The reference host device is a standard Android device that supports the Android Platform version 3.1 or higher.

Developers will most likely need a pre-built OpenXC binary from the manufacturer of the target vehicle—unless implementing custom CAN messages. Each OEM can decide whether or not to participate in OpenXC and if so, how many of the signals they wish to expose. As of January 2012, OpenXC was only supported on a few Ford vehicles: 2011 - 2012 Focus; 2012 Mustang; 2012 Fiesta; and 2011 Figo.

Ford has just started shipping the first OpenXC beta toolkits to universities such as the University of Michigan, MIT and Stanford, as well as initial developer participants, including Weather Underground in the US and now HCL Technologies in India.

At NASSCOM, Ford is demonstrating an app created by HCL that would allow a driver to provide selected personal contacts with an automatic location update during that driver’s travels. By monitoring location and speed information from the vehicle, the app can determine if the driver is running late for a meeting and then send an email or text message notification to other attendees without any input from the driver. The app can also notify the driver’s family following a safe arrival after a road trip.

The hope is that developers working with OpenXC will be able to create apps across a wide spectrum of categories, from those dealing with personal information and entertainment to those directly addressing congestion, and the needs of road safety, healthcare and education.

With OpenXC, Ford is opening up access to the car. By enabling local and independent developers to easily and quickly create apps using data provided by the car in combination with mobile connectivity and the power of the cloud, the possibilities are almost limitless.

India is such a unique and diverse marketplace that—as an automaker—it’s almost impossible for us to keep pace with consumer trends. The OpenXC platform will allow us to harness the power of the consumer and encourage the development of innovative solutions to meet their needs, at their pace.

—Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader for Ford Research and Innovation, and keynote speaker at NASSCOM

Networked vehicles represent the next frontier for mobile application developers. By connecting cars and trucks to wireless networks, entirely new application categories can be explored—safety, energy efficiency, sharing, entertainment, health—the list goes on. OpenXC gives developers the tools they need to get involved.

— Peter Semmelhack, Founder and CEO of Bug Labs


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