Cars have been getting smarter for years, studded with suites of sensors and supporting electronics aimed at keeping them from crashing. But entertainment and convenience have rapidly caught up to safety as the impetus for new in-car electronics development. Because automakers typically spend three years developing and producing new cars—and new gadget candy to go with them—they’ve found themselves constantly playing catch-up with consumer electronics and consumer expectations. So car companies have teamed up with the makers of smartphone software platforms to integrate a spectacular array of apps designed for handsets with cars’ digital dashboards, center consoles, and speaker systems.
Take for instance Ford’s new Focus all-electric vehicle, which made a big splash at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month. It features a software application called MyFord Mobile.
The app, which runs on Ford’s proprietary Sync platform and is compatible with the BlackBerry, iPhone, and Android devices, links the car with the driver’s smartphone and home computer. The software lets the driver listen to a smartphone’s music library and lets passengers watch movies or TV shows. It delivers information such as when electricity prices are at their lowest (to allow for the cheapest battery recharging) and where the nearest charging stations are. And it allows a smartphone to function as a remote control, by means of a connection to cloud-based servers. This remote communication lets the handset keep tabs on the car’s location and the batteries’ state of charge. It will also let the driver start the Focus EV from indoors on a blustery January morning, then step into a car whose seats and steering wheel are already warm. The MyFord Mobile app lets the driver remotely start the car, turn on the heater or air conditioner, or unlock the doors from anywhere in the world (including beneath the bedcovers).
And because the system differentiates one driver’s key from another’s, it presents information on the reconfigurable 4-inch screens on either side of the speedometer in the current driver’s preferred color and style. The state of charge, for example, could be shown as a percentage of the full charge, as an estimate of the remaining miles before recharging, or as a simple bar that gets shorter as the batteries’ energy is consumed. This differentiation also works for utility and entertainment options; it automatically queues up driver A’s list of radio station presets, favorite mobile apps, and preferred display options for the 8-inch center console touch screen. Because MyFord Mobile links the Focus to the driver’s handset, it can also access his or her contact list for hands-free calling and read out e-mails and texts through the car’s speakers.
SOURCE: IEEE Spectrum