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Students asked to develop apps for Ford

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Students asked to develop apps for Ford

Automaker reaches out to colleges to keep its voice-activated system ahead of the curve

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Dearborn -- Ford Motor Co. is asking university students to help it develop applications for future versions of its popular Sync system.

Developed in partnership with Microsoft Corp., Sync allows motorists to control their connected cellular telephone or music player, as well as many onboard vehicle systems, with simple voice commands.

The latest version, unveiled earlier this year, also enables drivers to control apps on their smartphones or similar devices. But given the rapid advances in social networking, cloud computing and other areas, Ford is finding it a challenge to stay ahead of the curve.

"What we are trying to do here is look at the other new opportunities we have ahead of us," said Venkatesh Prasad, leader of the infotronics team in Ford's research and advanced engineering division.

"We could do all this in-house, but we realized very quickly that task would not be scalable."

So, Ford began reaching out to area colleges, including the University of Michigan. The automaker helped put together a 12-week course taught by T.J. Giuli, a Ford engineer and visiting scholar at U-M.

He challenged students to develop their own cloud computing apps for an advanced version of Ford's system.

Ford engineers helped pick a winning team and the company is sending its members to the Maker Faire, an annual high-tech event in Silicon Valley, with their program installed on a new Ford Fiesta.

The winning team developed an app called "Caravan Track" that allows people in different cars to see where each other is in real time on each vehicle's navigation screen. It also shows how fast each car is going, what their fuel level is and allows drivers to send pre-recorded messages to each other -- all using voice commands.

"We wanted to make road trips easier," said Collin Hockey, one of three students who developed the program. "Instead of calling everybody and trying to find somebody, why not just put them on the map?"

Teammate Sangmi Park had developed apps for cell phones, but this was the first she'd designed for a car.

"I had to pay more attention to safety issues," she said.

Analyst Stephanie Brinley of AutoPacific Inc. said it makes sense for Ford to tap young talent, particularly when it comes to cutting-edge consumer technology.

"Any time you can bring students in and get them engaged, it has benefits for both the company and the students," she said. "The students get a chance to use their skills on a real-world application, and they become ambassadors for the automaker, too."

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100513/AUTO01/5130374/1148/auto01/Students-asked-to-develop-apps-for-Ford#ixzz0noUNdkkk

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