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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hey, There's a Cloud in my Car!

Few things are as central to our daily lives as the automobile.  Yet car manufacturers have traditionally been slow to integrate new computing technology into vehicles.  That is changing rapidly -- due in large part to the power and potential of the cloud. 

Motor Trend magazine predicts passengers in cars will soon integrate with social media networks, streaming Pandora, YouTube and other content, play online games from the car and control home lighting and home heating and cooling systems. This can all be done today on a smart phone. So, even more interesting is the idea that the cars themselves will become sensors, passing on information via the cloud about traffic, weather conditions and potholes as the vehicle encounters these and other obstacles.  This is part of the the growing Internet of Things  we discussed in a recent post.

Intriguing as these applications are, there are more immediate applications of the cloud in our cars.  One of these is a combined development effort by Ford and Microsoft.

First introduced at the North American International Auto Show in 2007, Ford SYNC lets you use voice commands to control your Bluetooth mobile phone and digital media players.  Today, customers who own 2010 Ford vehicles with SYNC already also have been using hands-free, voice-activated cell phone and digital media player integration, 911 Assist and Vehicle Health Report. 

The latest innovation offered on the SYNC platform is called TDI (Traffic, Directions and Information).  Considered by Ford to represent the integration of navigation systems and smart phones, TDI lets you download this latest app the same way you would download a song from an online media store such as Apple’s iTunes or App Store.

Using voice commands, SYNC TDI connects a customer’s Bluetooth-enabled cell phone to Ford’s Service Delivery Network voice portal delivering turn-by-turn driving directions, real-time traffic, business searches and news, sports and weather.  Similar to GM’s Onstar, a driver can ask for traffic information, turn-by-turn directions or information.  But, then magic happens behind the scenes through the interaction of several technologies in the cloud.

When you make a request, it is translated in the cloud by the Tellme voice portal.  Say “Traffic,” for example, and you receive a text message on your phone and a message broadcast over the vehicle’s audio system in real-time, with the location and severity of accidents or new road construction. This is produced by INRIX, a company that gathers real-time speeds, directions and locations from nearly 1 million commercial trucks and cars driving America’s roadways.

Say “Directions,” and a turn-by-turn route is downloaded from Telenav and  spoken to you, again, through the vehicle’s audio system and displayed on the central information display near the radio. Directions incorporate real-time traffic information thus offering the best route.

Airbiquity translates data for transmission over a voice channel, making sure that the coverage is widespread and the size of the transmission is limited to avoid delays.

Using an online location called,  customers can personalize sports, weather and news. And Ford can create its own app store to let customers download other SYNC applications and updates.

Ford's application of the cloud is ahead of the curve -- both in what it can do and in its integration of multiple cloud technology vendors. It is a vivid and practical illustration of what is here today and foreshadows how we all soon will be dealing with the cloud in our cars  -- hopefully with our eyes on the road.

1 comment:

  1. You might be interested in seeing another interesting story in today's New York Times about Cisco's ideas about the future of the dashboard in cars.