Ford OpenXC makes it possible for Android apps to access car sensor data

January 11, 2013
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Ford Sync

Location-based services have made it possible for smartphone users to navigate and find establishments right from their smartphones. Building on the success of apps like Google Maps, Waze and the like, Ford Motors is improving on the way smartphones communicate with the car, which can open up all sorts of possibilities.

At CES 2013, Ford has released the Ford OpenXC SDK for Android developers. The SDK was designed to allow access to a car’s sensor data.

This is the second developer tool released by Ford. It had earlier released the SYNC AppLink API for smartphones, which is a proprietary feature of Ford cars that allow the driver to access their smartphone features hands free. The API was released as an open-source tool for anyone to use and develop.

The open-source OpenXC SDK on the other hand, will allow developers to write apps which make use of a car’s sensor data. By using the CAN bus, only data can be accessed from the car’s microchip. Other embedded tools and services that actually run the car are not accessible. This ensures that vehicles could not be hacked through tools created using OpenXC.

Among other things, Ford expects developers to create apps that would enhance the user experience. Car data like gas consumption, GPS info and vehicle speed can be read by an app and then presented or consumed in different ways on the phone. Another possible app could be then created from collecting these data, and sending them to a central database. This data can then be mined for comparison and study.

For the most part, the vehicle data would contribute to the increasingly-popular trend in mining “big data” as information from each trip is pooled together. This can give authorities, manufacturers (Ford, in this case, or even other brands), marketing professionals, or any other stakeholder, a better understanding of the user and car. This data can be used to improve the user experience with the introduction of more innovative car features, as well as improve road safety.

In terms of fuel consumption, developers can present the car data in a way that helps the driver drive with better mileage in mind. For instance, common knowledge has it that fast acceleration from a standing start would consume more gas, but presenting actual data would emphasize this and might make the driver go easier on the pedal.

The launch might be an indication that Ford wants to entice developers and other car manufacturers, into a more collaborative environment, where user’s feedback can more easily be translated to hardware and software innovations.

Ford understands that releasing OpenXC is also opening up endless possibilities for apps, which include not just data mining, collaboration, and improved user experience, but also access to wireless networks, communication between vehicles, data sharing, vehicle performance monitoring, energy efficiency, and so on. Vehicle data means different things to different people. For the developer, the fun really starts when this API is coupled with other APIs to create a synergistic application. In terms of social media, it can also be used to log in, or post automatically, like a game status posting, or checking in through location-apps like Foursquare.

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