Ford already has something of a reputation in car circles. Not only was it widely acclaimed for accepting nothing in the way of government bailout money back in those darker times for car makers, but it's also had a clear focus on innovation. The partnership with Microsoft (News - Alert) to develop SYNC for Ford cars certainly proved that much, but an unsatisfied Ford decided to blow the doors off development, figuratively speaking, and bring out a whole new open development platform, OpenXC.
Ford's OpenXC, which is already available for developers to download, is an expression of something of a recent new development in people hacking their hardware to make it do new and unexpected things that the original developers hadn't envisioned the hardware doing. More specifically, OpenXC allows access to a vehicle interface module that has its basis in the Arduino platform, a platform growing in popularity with the do-it-yourself hardware crowd.
The module in question can then be used to read data about the vehicle's performance on its internal communications systems, and can include important data points like vehicle speed, as well as access to the internal sensors and the GPS receiver. The system is read-only, and isolated from the various control systems, so there's minimal risk of erasing some critical line of code that prevents the vehicle from starting. The OpenXC website, meanwhile, provides several different schematics -- as well as documentation and code -- for a variety of hardware modules besides.
As for uses for the system, some are projecting that big data applications can have some benefit here, and there is a lot of potential use for such hacking in terms of the user experience. While it's hard to say from the outset just what the user community will do with such a program -- it's almost like looking at a big pile of Legos and saying "so, what can we make out of this?"-- it's clear that there are a lot of possible uses for it. When even Ford is saying on the OpenXC website "No single company can think of all possibilities for applications..." that only serves to drive the point home.
There really is a lot of room in the field for all players, and Ford's decision to open up the metaphorical hood and give everyone a good look at the internals, complete with ways to modify those internals, is a welcome point indeed. It's interesting to note, however, that Ford isn't the only one doing this, as General Motors (News - Alert) was recently seen with an olive branch extended to the developer community with its OnStar programming interface.
Only time will tell just where the community at large goes with this newfound freedom, though hopefully we'll start seeing the fruits of that labor in the not too distant future.
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Edited by Rich Steeves