Driving connectivity

Ford and Microsoft joined forces at CES to show what can be achieved when the worlds of technology and motoring collide

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Driving connectivity
By  George Bevir Published  February 1, 2010 Communications Middle East & Africa Logo

During his CES keynote, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said that if the car industry had innovated at the same rate as the microchip sector, cars would travel at 300,000 mph and cost only 3 cents.

While that level of performance might be well out of reach, Ford, together with Microsoft, is trying to keep up with the advances in consumer electronics.

At CES, Ford CEO Alan Mulally latched on to one application in particular that rose to prominence in 2009: micro blogging service Twitter. He told delegates that Ford will be capable of reading people’s Twitter feeds to them, and that through voice recognition technology people would be able to speak their ‘tweets’ to the car, once safety fears have been allayed.

The service will be possible as a result of the manufacturer’s plans to connect its cars to the internet, which will also see them able to do things like stream music from Pandora, a personalised internet music website. The technology works by linking the car to the 3G connection of the driver or a passenger’s mobile phone.

Safety campaigners have voiced concerns about people being distracted by these kinds of services, but Ford and Microsoft say that increasing safety is one of the drivers behind the product.

Greg Baribault, director of product management and marketing in Microsoft’s Auto division, says the goal has always been to let people keep their hands on the wheel.

That was the thinking behind Fiat’s ‘Blue&Me’ (Bluetooth and Media) feature, launched four years ago and which provided the template for Ford’s ‘Sync’ technology, which was initially based on ‘Blue&Me’, and centred around making it easier for car drivers to connect their music devices to the car’s stereo.

Microsoft took that technology to Ford, where it became Ford Sync. Microsoft added a touch screen, but the focus remained on accessing media while on the go and Ford says it had sold one million ‘InSync’ units as of last summer.

Well connected

Baribault says it may be some time until cars have their own Sim cards and their own independent connection. “In the future, we believe there will be a need for both. I think the wireless market needs to mature a bit before we get the internet in to the car. It should be as simple as another Sim on the same account, and when that happens I think it will take off. At the moment, people are probably not keen on getting another account.”

For its latest gadgetry, Ford has taken its cue from the world of consumer electronics and designed its controls along the lines of MP3 players and mobile phones, “matching modern consumer electronics screens and controls that have become the standard for ease of use and rich graphic displays”.

“MyFord Touch, combined with new Sync functionality, creates an experience that will cause people to fall in love with their vehicles again,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president of global product development.  “It’s not just a technology; it’s an experience we hope will have people across the globe looking forward to spending time behind the wheel of their vehicle.”

MyFord, which will be branded MyLincoln Touch and MyMercury Touch on respective Lincoln and Mercury brand products, redesigns the in-car interface, mirroring how consumers interact with most devices in their lives: touch-sensitive buttons, touch screens, thumb-wheel controls and voice recognition.

Two 4.2-inch full-color LCD screens flank an analog speedometer, and an 8-inch touch-screen LCD resides at the top of the centre stack. A five-way switch on each side of the steering wheel crossbar controls the information displayed on the corresponding instrument panel screens.

The system has been configured for global deployment, using one hardware package worldwide. The identical global SYNC hardware will be outfitted with branding, languages and regionally appropriate applications while the host vehicle is on the assembly line, all using WiFi technology.

According to Ford export and growth communications manager, Marci Williamson, the MyFord and MyFord Touch Driver Connect Technology on show at CES will launch on the 2011 Ford Edge and MKX, with both products to be sold in the Middle East in Q4.

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