American Journey 2.0 – and Ford’s app platform for Car + Cloud apps built on Windows 7 and MS Robotics


If you were at SxSWi this past March, you might have gotten a peek at one of my projects with Ford Motor Company to create a Windows 7-based application platform for the car. The platform -- which Ford has dubbed "Fiestaware" because it's deployed in a Ford Fiesta -- was architected by Ford and Microsoft, and built by Ford with the help of Microsoft partner Cumulux.  Ford Researcher TJ Giuli, in a panel session hosted by Cumulux's Ranjith Ramakrishan, described where he thinks apps for the car are headed, the Fiestaware platform, and some of the motivations behind Fiestaware.

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Photo caption: TJ Giuli of Ford Resrearch (center) and Ranjith Ramakrishnan of Cumulux (right) getting set up before their SxSWi session

You might have also seen TJ and Ranjith demoing Fiestaware in the Windows 7 area of Microsoft’s Interactive Lounge space. 

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Photo caption: Ranjith explaining the Fiestaware platform to SxSWi attendees

In terms of where car apps are headed, well, they are headed right for us!  Ford is pursuing multiple paths in parallel when it comes to car apps.  One of those paths is the next generation of Ford SYNC. For more on this line of innovation, definitely check out Ford's CES keynote where they gave an in-depth look at how SYNC is evolving to support 3rd party apps. The basic model here is that apps will run on devices that you bring into the car, but apps written to use the new Ford SYNC AppLink can be controlled by the UX paradigms that are natural for the car environment -- voice, touch, and hard buttons. This capability is first available on the 2011 Ford Fiesta (which just launched, btw)… and you can see Ford Product Manager Julius Marchwicki demo it here in this video clip.

The second path TJ talked about  -- and the main focus of his talk at SxSW -- was a project we’ve been working on together with Ford Research for a quite a while now to build out the Ford “Fiestaware” application platform for custom apps.  This pic of slide from TJ’s talk gives a little info about the platform (below).

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Photo caption: One of TJ’s slides from his SxSWi panel session

Basically, the Fiestaware platform is built on top of Windows 7, and supports a multi-modal user interface with .NET/Windows Presentation Foundation for the screens, Windows 7 Speech  API for voice and Windows 7 Touch APIs for touch.  The screen is single touch, but with multi-touch capable hardware the platform becomes multi-touch capable. 

The Fiestaware platform uses Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio to expose virtually every sensor on the vehicle as Distributed System Services (DSS) to programmers without requiring developers to be experts in embedded vehicle systems.  Additionally, the platform includes SQL CE to support caching/syncing to SQL Azure to gracefully handle cases where network connection is not available. 

We worked with Ford and the University of Michigan to run a course this spring to teach CS undergrads and grad school designers to build with this platform and then see what kinds of apps they would find interesting enough to build for themselves.  TJ was an official course instructor working with Professors Brian Noble and Jason Flinn, and Microsoft delivered 8 of the course lectures, as well as a half day session on WPF and Expression Blend.  We also gave the students and Ford team direct access to Microsoft architects and developers via email in case they had questions. 

At the end of the term, we ran a contest… there were six teams building apps, and the best team would be sponsored to join a road trip from Ann Arbor out to Maker Faire to show off their apps in a booth with Ford, Intel, and Microsoft – called American Journey 2.0. 

What the students came up with in about 100 days is really impressive!  Sure, we gave them some help – but they picked up the technology really fast.  A prime goal was to make the platform accessible to developers, and to see the quality of the innovation they all delivered is really fantastic.  A sincere congratulations to all the students!!  To see their work for yourself, check out ReadWriteWeb’s American Journey 2.0 coverage, and also Ford’s video on American Journey 2.0 here.  

We just had a media event with Ford this afternoon, and there’s lots more to share soon.  🙂

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photo caption: Two of the Ford Fiestas making the road trip with Ford, UofM, and Microsoft folks out to Maker Faire. 

For one, I’ll be driving with the Ford and university of Michigan team out to Maker Faire, and will have regular posts from the road.  In the mean time, why not follow the AJtheFiesta?  Ford has given the *car* a twitter account and it will be posting and checking in via 4SQ from the road. 

And if you’re in Chicago tomorrow night (13-May), come out to Harry Caray’s at 8pm to meet the Ford, Michigan, and Microsoft folks on the road trip and say “Hi”! (Facebook invite: http://bit.ly/8XPaqv ). 


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