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CTIA: Ford details the connected car

As more people use their smartphones while driving, Ford is finding ways of safely integrate their apps into its cars

The automotive industry and the wireless industry have a lot more in common then you might think, Ford Motor group vice president of global product development Derrick Kuzak told the attendees of CTIA Enterprise & Applications on the closing days of the show. Not only do they share the same customers, but increasingly those customers are using both industries products simultaneously, he said.

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Kuzak said 35% of smartphone owners with applications on their device use them in the car. Meanwhile the average commuter spends 3 hours in the car and drives roughly 16.5 hours a week, and those commute times are steadily increasing due to growing traffic congestion, Kuzak said. As people drive more and more people buy smartphones, mobile devices an applications will become an increasingly popular distraction from the monotony of the daily commute.

“People are looking to make up for this lost time,” Kuzak said during his keynote. “They can either do it unsafely or they can do it with their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.”

Ford’s Sync program is evolving from a voice command platform to a highly connected vehicle entertainment and productivity platform. Unlike other vehicle connectivity, solutions, Ford isn’t looking to turn the car into a platform unto itself with its own proprietary applications, operating system and wireless service, Kuzak said. Rather it’s trying to make the vehicle an extension of the smartphone, using the phone’s existing radio connection and its on-board applications but doing so in a manner that won’t lead to unsafe driving practices.

Ford has already partnered with companies like Pandora and OpenBeak to seamlessly integrate their services with the Ford Sync platform. Rather than have those developers build new apps for the Microsoft-based operating system in the dashboard, though, Ford is exposing application programming interfaces to its trusted partners, which allow their apps to reach into the Ford console via Bluetooth and access some of its key capabilities. In the Pandora implementation, for instance, a Sync-enabled version of the music-streaming app loaded into a BlackBerry or Android phone could be activated and controlled through voice commands and the buttons on the car’s entertainment system. Song titles and playlists or displayed on the dash and the music stream pauses when a call comes in, which would also be relayed through the Sync console. At no point does the phone ever have to leave the driver’s pocket.

For applications like SMS, e-mail or news alerts that would require a driver to read content, Ford isn’t just transposing the text onto the dash. Using Bluetooth Message Access Profile and text-to speech technology, Sync reads out messages, twitter posts and other short-form text content.

But Kuzak said these applications are only examples of applications already popular in the mobile world that have been adapted and optimized for the in-vehicle environment. He said Ford envisions a whole new category of apps, of “Apps on Wheels” emerging that focus specifically on the driving experience. He detailed an app called Driver’s Ed 2.0, a hyper-local service, real-time service that alerts drivers not only of traffic problems or accidents ahead but of particularly dangerous intersections or on-ramps. Another app, Cloud Parking, would search for nearby paid parking lots, check for space availability navigate the car to them and even reserve and pay for a parking spot with preloaded credit card info.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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