Ford is using its new Fiesta car to demonstrate that cars can be mobile Internet devices. The company is sending two Ford Fiestas, loaded with high-tech applications and University of Michigan students, on a road trip.
The trip is the culmination of a year-long project -- American Journey 2.0 -- with the university, supported by Microsoft and Intel, offering a group of UM students a chance to define the future in-car experience.
The cars, which left from the Ann Arbor, Mich. campus on Thursday, are a rolling experiment in cars as social media platforms. They are heading for Maker Faire, an invention festival in Silicon Valley. The idea is that the future is now when it comes to the convergence of consumer electronics and automobiles.
One of the cars will demonstrate three experimental apps: Virtual Road Rally, "Auto"matic Blog and Local Search, developed on top of Ford's application development platform built on Windows 7 and Microsoft Robotics.
The second Fiesta, driven by three UM computer science students, will be using something called Caravan Track, an app they developed as part of a 12-week Ford-sponsored course, "Cloud Computing in the Commute," to develop social networking personal transportation apps.
The "Auto"matic Blog gives the car a "personality" and a way to communicate its mood. Ford says the Fiesta, whose Web name is @AJtheFiesta, will automatically blog or tweet statements about the journey based on information it gathers from various vehicle data sensors or engine computer codes.
Local Search uses social networking app Foursquare so that each time the car makes a stop it will check in with Foursquare to identify the location, and it can also search for nearby restaurants, gas stations and parks.
The road trip is intended to be an outreach to two groups: Fiesta buyers, which Ford expects will be millennials like the UM students; and app developers interested in the future of software development and mobile platforms.
At the road trip's final destination -- Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif., May 22 -- the UM students and Ford engineers will talk up the tech with global leaders in technology development.
K. Prasad Venkatesh, group and technical leader with Ford's Infotronics Research and Advanced Engineering, says that with 254 million passenger cars and some 500 million commuter hours per week in the U.S. along with the proliferation of smartphones and apps, there are opportunities to take the Internet mobile and "design technology and bring services together to simplify life and extend the value of apps."
Ford will soon be rolling out a set of mobile phone applications. "They are in the market now or coming soon," he says. "The next chapter really is to bring the value of social networks to the vehicle in a manner which is directly applicable to the vehicle, the driver, the passengers, or anyone else who may be part of that value chain."
The goal, he says, is making the auto "an enticing and attractive computer platform."