Thursday, October 11, 2007

Connected Cars

Ford Sync integrates in-car PC for infotainment and connectivityHave you ever had the feeling: "Hey! Cool, I thought about this!". Perhaps common sense or a combination of technical / market knowledge and life's reality, sometimes you think of something and a while later you hear there's innovation happening there. By someone else, ofcourse :-)

So this is a concept I really like and think could go ways: Intelligent cars. Actually, this is a private case of a larger thread of 'Integration'. And what it is, is that you see smaller consumer gadgets first being introduced in their independent form, and then usually, once the interest and the money equation make sense, they get integrated into larger, existing computing systems.

That trend is true for mobile: take the obvious case of music integration onto the phone: people would buy a certain phone if it has MP3 playing feature integrated instead of buying a separate MP3 player.
It is true for PCs, now having TV connectivity and control modules.
And last, it is definitely true for vehicles, getting all kinds of gadgets on the dashboard that you know, will be integrated into the vehicles capabilities.

So it only makes sense for car manufacturers to "simply throw" an off-the shelve PC onto the car to manage informational data, entertainment center, vehicle condition etc. People can install more applications like in facebook, they can download content, surf the web. Anormal connected PC can be upgraded.

You also want to make sure that PC is completely disconnected from the driving functions that affect safety. I was once told by a product manager at Trimble: "Vehicle manufacturers are used to 100% quality products, and software just isn't there yet. They trust their breaks more than they trust the onboard computer".

So I came across Popular Mechanics 2007 Breakthrough list and one of them is Ford's Sync:

"Ford has elegantly and inexpensively leap-frogged the competition when it comes to in-car infotainment systems. Ford’s $395 Sync is essentially a small computer running the Microsoft Auto operating system that wirelessly integrates all of your mobile gadgets. It enables hands-free phone use and has a universal music player that pulls songs from virtually any MP3 player. The voice-recognition control is simply the best we’ve ever tried. So far, the most impressive trick Sync offers is its ability to receive text messages and then read them to you. And Sync’s flexible software platform means it should be easily upgradable in the future. Sync will be available in 12 models by the end of the year and on nearly all Ford vehicles within two years."

Few comments I'd like to make:
  • the term "Microsoft Auto operating system" causes me to screen while driving 60 MPH...
  • It's cool that they have thought of the ability to upgrade (don't we do it every day on our PCs? why not on the onboard PC?)
  • It's cool that the PC is connected to the wireless networks as well as to mobile devices in its proximity

Here's my addition:
  • Allow car (passengers) to connect to each other: you have a connected PC onboard, why not connect cars to each other. Create a "facebook" network of moving cars, sharing real time road information, fun recommendations, people can talk, share content and much more
  • Allow seamless web connectivity in the car so that passengers can provide feedback, for example, dictate to their blog or listen to radio and tag/comment/share their interests / play lists etc., just like Bijan in his blog talks about Radio 2.0

Overall, cool stuff. There will be some safety concerns but you know more is coming. Did anyone mention location-aware advertising?

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