Ford has opened a laboratory in Silicon Valley with the stated aim of exploring “big data, open-source innovation and user experience.”
The opening of the Ford Silicon Valley Lab (SVL) seems an offshoot of the car industry’s enthusiasm for embedding sensors in multiple automobile systems. Millions of sensors’ worth of information provide companies such as Ford with the data necessary to make vehicles safer and more efficient. That’s a significant opportunity, but any organization on the receiving end of that sort of data flood also needs the facilities and tools to analyze it for valuable insights.
In addition to improving individual vehicles, Ford seems to believe that aggregated data from multiple car sensors can help solve more society-level issues such as traffic congestion. By placing the lab in Silicon Valley, the company is obviously hoping to leverage the expertise of nearby tech companies. (Ford has set up a Silicon Valley Lab Website, but it remains bare except for some brief explanatory text and some very pretty pictures of couches and steering wheels.)
Ford seemed a little vague about SVL’s open-source plans. “Viewing the car as a platform and providing access to real-time data allows for the rapid development of custom hardware and software applications,” read a press release issued June 18. “Now the Silicon Valley Lab is looking at open-source development using the research platform OpenXC developed with Bug Labs.”
OpenXC, billed as “an API to your car,” relies on a hardware module that siphons data from a vehicle’s internal network and makes it accessible from most Android apps using the OpenXC library. In theory, that allows for the creation of “vehicle-aware” applications, connected with other services, that the driver can use with a minimum of distraction. OpenXC is currently available in “limited testing release,” according to its Website.
Ford has engaged in other technology initiatives, of course, including electric vehicles (a partnership with Microsoft even saw the latter’s Hohm energy-monitoring software installed in Ford cars). Indeed, the car industry as a whole seems generally willing to explore technologies that will make their collective vehicles more efficient and user friendly, all with an eye toward increasing sales—and with a little help from Big Data.