Boing Boing Ingenuity: A look at Ford's OpenXC real-time data platform

On August 17-18, 2013 in San Francisco, Boing Boing is hosting its first ever large-scale live event, called Boing Boing: Ingenuity, in partnership with Ford C-Max. The invitation-only extravaganza starts with a hack day on Saturday (8/17) and will continue on Sunday (8/18) with a mind-bending theatrical experience of presentations, performances, oddities, and wonder! (Read David's post about the hack day here.)

On Saturday, the hacker teams will be given the opportunity to use OpenXC, Ford's open-source platform that connects smart phones and tablets to real-time vehicle data, in their projects. Indeed, the theme of the hack day is "Data Driven." To learn more about OpenXC, we spoke to Ford Research Lab Leader TJ Giuli.

Why did Ford decide to go open source with OpenXC?

We want to increase the rate of innovation on our platforms and enable third parties to develop cool user experiences without Ford standing in the way. By making OpenXC open source, developers, researchers and DIYers can have an unprecedented level of access to their vehicle and by contributing source or designs back to the OpenXC project, they become co-creators with us at Ford.

Is the platform meant for DIY makers or companies you hope will release commercial products?

It's definitely targeted at DIYers/researchers/developers. OpenXC is a research platform, whereas on the production side, Ford has AppLink, which is an API that is very much intended for companies making commercial products.

What is your favorite OpenXC-based creation so far?

There are a lot of really cool projects that have been done with OpenXC so far, so I'll give you a few answers. One internal project is something we call the Retro Gauge, which is a fully open source hardware gauge designed in the spirit of performance gauges car modifiers commonly use today. One of the great things about the Retro Gauge is that since we release the electronic schematics and 3D housing design files, it's really easy for anyone to take our design and modify it for their own needs. It's also fully programmable from the software side, so you could use it as a highly accurate fuel economy gauge, or something entertaining like a "car happiness" gauge that shows you how your car "feels" (e.g., looking at how well the engine is running, when it's last oil change was, etc.).

Another great project was the OpenXC Shift Knob. It can be used to help train new manual transmission drivers when to shift, with further applications to eco shifting and power shifting. Check out a video on the project here.

Externally, I was impressed by a team from GraceNote that used OpenXC at the last Music Hack Day SF to queue up songs based on the current driving context. So if the car is going fast, the system would queue up a "driving fast" kind of song, or if the car senses it's raining it will play a rainy day song.

Do you expect other car companies to embrace OpenXC which, while open, is a Ford design?

We'd certainly like it if we could attract other OEMs. We've structured OpenXC to be a truly open source project and thus be able to accept many contributing members. Ultimately this is where we'd like the project to go.

Looking 5 years out at the potential of open source cars and big data, what is your vision for the future of driving?

Our job as researchers is to look further out, push boundaries, and really get out of our comfort zone. So while our ideas around open source hardware and software might seem pretty radical today in an automotive context, I do believe that the momentum OpenXC has gathered so far will have an impact in the way that Ford and other OEMs think about open source and how it relates to production platforms. I wouldn't be surprised if in the next 5 years we see major automotive systems that are partially or fully open source go into production.

From a big data perspective, I believe that we'll see big data enabling more refined, pleasing user interfaces and experiences. Big data collected from car sensors (with proper privacy protections) will enable us to know more about the world we travel through, it could help city and transportation planners design next generation systems able to move more people with greater efficiency and personal mobility.


Boing Boing: Ingenuity in partnership with Ford C-Max.